Killer Takes His Confession to S.C. Supreme Court; Investigators' Tactics Questioned
By Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press
Columbia, S.C. -- The case sounds like fodder for a prime-time police drama. A suspect denies killing his girlfriend until police fake a phone call from the state crime lab with some damaging evidence.
He confesses, but later takes his statement back, saying he was intimidated and used details investigators told him during questioning.
But prosecutors have other evidence, including an anger management questionnaire where the defendant wrote he sometimes "felt angry enough to kill" and was so mad sometimes he couldn't go to sleep. But they can't prove when the suspect filled it out.
A Charleston County jury convicted Wesley Myers, 44, of beating his girlfriend to death in 1997 and trying to set fire to the bar where she worked. He was sentenced to 30 years on the murder charge and 10 years for arson.
On Tuesday, Myers' lawyer was at the state Supreme Court, saying his confession was coerced, the anger management questionnaire was "explosively prejudicial" and North Charleston police had stonewalled defense attorneys so much he still wasn't sure officers had given him all the evidence.
The justices had pointed questions for both sides, asking Dudek how Myers could have been forced into making an hourlong confession from what Chief Justice Jean Toal called "one of the more gentle questionings I've ever heard of."
But they also had barbs for Assistant Attorney General Ed Salter, who said he could not defend the anger management questionnaire since there was no proof when Myers wrote his answers.
However, Salter said there was enough other evidence that the questionnaire shouldn't have been the deciding factor for the jury and Myers' conviction should be upheld.
Much of Tuesday's arguments surrounded Myers' confession.
It came during his third meeting with police. Up to that point, Myers had denied killing 36-year-old Teresa Haught by beating her with a wine carafe.
But then another investigator faked a phone call, saying he was from the state crime lab. He reported characteristics of some hair found in the victim's hand matched Myers.
A preliminary analysis by the State Law Enforcement Division did show some qualities of the hair matched Myers. But the call had come in the day before.
"I must have did it then," Myers responded, according to testimony at his trial. He then gave an hourlong confession with details of the crime that had not been made public.
Dudek said the confession was bolstered by investigators showing Myers pictures of the crime scene and telling him details of the killings during questioning. Also, Dudek pointed out a defense expert said DNA from the hair did not match Myers.
But plenty of other courts have upheld the right of police to use "artifice, guile and misrepresentation," said Associate Justice Costa Pleicones, who said people can see the same tactics on TV shows like "NYPD Blue."
Salter also defended the officers. "Even if they made that up, it wasn't enough to make his statement involuntary," he said.
Another part of Myers' appeal surrounds defense expert Sam Kassin, a psychologist at Williams College is Massachusetts who wrote a book about false confessions.
Kassin was allowed to testify, but couldn't give examples of other cases where people gave false confessions.
Dudek said the reasons why someone would say they did something they did not do are complex and without real-world examples, the impact of Kassin's testimony was reduced so much that Myers could not get a fair trial.
Salter said allowing Kassin to give examples would have given his testimony too much weight.
"He admitted at one point during cross-examination that he was in no better position than anyone else in the world to determine whether a statement is true or false," Salter said.
In the end, the case could hinge on the behavior of the North Charleston police. Pleicones said the officers arranging a media event that he called a "perp walk" was shameful.
"This was a stunt that was staged," Toal said. "During sweeps week," Pleicones finished.
The justices will announce their ruling later.