After serving almost 22 years in prison for a triple murder they did not commit, two Brooklyn men, Antonio Yarbough and Sharrif Wilson, were released this week after exonerating DNA evidence was found.
The two men were convicted of the 1992 murder of Yarbough's mother, his 12 year old sister, and a cousin.
"It was a nightmare," Yarbough told CNN. "Twenty-one years and seven months was more like 42 years and seven months, when you know you're in prison for something you didn't do."
The convictions were overturned after "prosecutors said newly discovered evidence created 'substantial reasonable doubt of the defendants' guilt,'" the assistant District Attorney said, using an extremely liberal definition of the words "newly discovered." In 2005 Wilson admitted that he had falsely confessed and implicated Yarbough in the crimes. The District Attorney began reviewing the case five years later. Testing last year connected DNA found under Yarbough's mother's fingernails to another murder in 1999, which the duo could not have committed because of their rock solid "rotting away in prison for a crime we didn't commit at the time" alibi.
So why would Wilson have confessed to something he didn't do in the first place?
"I was scared, afraid; I was lied to, manipulated into believing that I was going to go home, if I do tell ... what they said happened." Wilson said.
Many of the 312 convictions that have been overturned through later DNA evidence turn out to hinge on just such a false confession according to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to helping exonerate the wrongfully convicted. They list five common themes consistent throughout most of these cases, including "Real or perceived intimidation of the suspect by law enforcement," "Use of force by law enforcement during the interrogation, or perceived threat of force," "Compromised reasoning ability of the suspect, due to exhaustion, stress, hunger, substance use, and, in some cases, mental limitations, or limited education," "Devious interrogation techniques, such as untrue statements about the presence of incriminating evidence," "Fear, on the part of the suspect, that failure to confess will yield a harsher punishment."
For many of the accused, the stress of the interrogation process can lead them to give in to whatever it is police are asking simply to get the process over and done with, criminal psychology experts say. Since the time-honored tradition of "beating it out of him" is no longer legal, instead detectives may resort to psychological violence to achieve the same effects, which is no less a grave miscarriage of justice, unless of course it's Eliot Stabler doing it on TV, in which case it's known as being damn good police.
Yarbough and Wilson saw each other for the first time in decades this week. Wilson apologized to his old friend, but Yarbough can't entirely blame him, he said.
"I know what they did to him, because I know what they did to me."