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Why Do People Plead Guilty To Imaginary Crimes? (Part 1)

There have been countless cases of people confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, including under torture or simply intense psychological pressure. Sometimes the psychological pressure isn’t that intense. History offers many examples. The witchcraft trials of the 1600s saw people, mostly women, confessing to crimes they had not only not committed but were clearly imaginary.

In England, the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 saw women confessing to impossible crimes, while the 1682 case in Scotland of Issobell Gowdie and her accomplice Janet Breadheid saw a four day long confession by the former to renouncing her baptism to the Devil, being baptised in his name, and even having sex with him, his being “abler for them sexually than any man could be. His members were exceeding great and long, but he was as heavy as a sack of malt and as cold as ice.”

The above quote is taken from the 1975 book Why Men Confess by O. John Rogge.

The same author covers the Moscow purge trials of 1936-8; there were 16, 17 & 21 defendants respectively, including former members of Lenin’s Politburo. They all confessed, one even explained that he hadn’t been drugged or hypnotised. He said that if he had to be executed he would rather die a good Bolshevik.

If that can be put down to communist indoctrination and brainwashing, a much simpler case from the 1950s showed sometimes people will simply confess. The tale of Brenda Lamb made only page 5 of the Daily Express on July 21, 1958.

This young woman who had been working at a hospital in the North of England, came under suspicion over the disappearance of some rings from a patient’s property. She was said to have been questioned 3 or 4 times for an hour or two at a time at Lancaster police station before telling the police she’d stolen the rings then thrown them in the river. When she appeared in court she was ordered to pay restitution and given two years of probation. Then a woman appeared and said she’d taken the rings home for the patient, her sister.

Why would a woman falsely report being raped? There are many reasons, especially in the current climate when there is bizarrely a certain celebrity status to claiming victimhood. That may have been what the police in Lynnwood,  Washington were thinking when in August 2008, a troubled teenager reported being raped at knifepoint in her apartment. In spite of forensic evidence including bruising, they were not impressed with her demeanour, and under pressure she claimed she’d made it up. She was prosecuted, receiving a $500 fine, but her story doesn’t end there.

It was perhaps understandable that detectives would be suspicious because faux rape victims are not averse to faking forensic evidence, as was reported here recently, but this girl really had been raped; she was a victim of Marc O’Leary, who was arrested in 2011, and was eventually sentenced to over three hundred years for a series of rapes. The teenager was awarded $150,000 damages and became the subject of a Netflix dramatisation. Her case is far from unique, but there have been many cases in which men have pleaded guilty to rapes that never happened. The most high profile such case since the turn of the Millennium is that of Brian Banks (pictured above with his mother).

To Part 2.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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OPCW Watch
OPCW Watch
May 16, 2020

More perplexing is why people imagine crimes and then plead innocence in order to whitewash the criminal consequences.

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