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FRONTLINE: The Confessions

Airs Friday, July 15, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: The “Norfolk Four,” clockwise from top left: Eric Wilson, Joe Dick, Danial Williams and Derek Tice. Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit?

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit? In "The Confessions," FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel ("Innocence Lost," "An Ordinary Crime") investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia, woman in 1997.

The Case Timeline

View a timeline of key events surrounding the Norfolk Four case, from 1990 to the present.

In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques, including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation and intimidation, that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite any evidence linking them to the crime.

All four sailors are now out of prison — one served his sentence and the other three were granted conditional pardons last summer — but the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders. The case raises disturbing questions about the actions of the police and prosecutors, who relied on the sailors’ often contradictory confessions for their convictions, and disregarded DNA evidence that pointed to a lone assailant who would later confess to the crime himself while serving prison time for another rape.

Video

Video Excerpt: Frontline: The Confessions: Recording A Confession

Above: Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit? In "The Confessions," FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation -- that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime.

Video

Video Excerpt: Frontline: The Confessions: Finding A Lawyer

Above: Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit? In this clip from "The Confessions," the parents of one of the "Norfolk Four" describe when their son first told them he had signed a confession. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation -- that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime.

Comments

Avatar for user 'elroyer'

elroyer | November 15, 2010 at 3:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

This extraordinary film made me so angry I wasn't sure if I should scream or cry. The film exposes the "system" as fatally flawed, no pun intended. From that piece of ___ work Kaine down through the DA and the defense attorneys and the criminal cop, all should be indicted for crimes against humanity.

Legislation should be enacted immediately to have 100% of police interrogations subject to codes which control how why when and where and they should all be monitored by referees who cannot advocate for law enforcement but simply enforce the federal law under which interrogations may take place.

Finally, I started life in a conservative household and consequently became a death penalty advocate. In 1980 after reading Norman Mailers book, The Executioner's Song, I decided I was against the death penalty, to the dismay of my family and many friends.

Interestingly, Mailer wrote that prior to writing the book he was against the DP, but after he was reluctantly in favor. Strangely he favored it because of the symbol-logy. He wrote that (and I paraphrase) he felt the presence of the death penalty kept the populace from reacting to strongly to crime in our midst, maybe vigilantism or electing someone like Hitler into power ??? But I digress, I am not sure that there has ever been a more striking indictment of the death penalty than this horrendous tragedy.

I am a retired USN Seal and consider myself to be as patriotic as anybody. But this event is as horrific as the hanging of Delara Darabi and all of us should be ashamed.

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