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Netflix: The Confession Tapes (season 1) review

The Confession Tapes

The Confession Tapes (2017) is a shocking documentary series revealing miscarriages of justice from across the pond. What really sets this apart from other crime documentaries is the notion of false confession. Why would anybody confess to a crime they didn’t commit? This depends on which episode you watch. Unethical police practice is the short answer, with suspects beings coerced into either believing they committed the crime or believing that not confessing will have dire consequences.

My favourite episode is A Public Apology which explores the murder of Teresa Haught in 1997. The police immediately set their sights on her boyfriend as the culprit. Wesley Myers is hardly the sharpest tool in the shed, but he seems candid and genuine. No evidence ties Myers to the crime, but the unfortunate roller coaster relationship him and Teresa had, fuelled with alcohol and partying, is essentially what puts him in the frame. The police interrogate Myers relentlessly, without a lawyer, for numerous hours. This wears him down to a vulnerable state, and Myers begins to even question himself after police suggest he could have blacked out and committed the murder, despite him having no recollection or intention of ever killing her.

Wesley Myers

Wesley Myers

What strikes me as most unethical is the lie Myers is told by police – that physical hair and blood evidence exists and links him to the crime. It doesn’t, but upon hearing this Myers thinks he has to have done it. The result – a false confession. He apologises for committing the murder which essentially lands him behind bars. A confused Myers spends years in prison, until DNA evidence reveals he is innocent 15 years later. Even then, he is advised to plead guilty at his retrial so he is released under ‘time served’. The end of the episode is especially sad when Myers reveals that the things he missed most were simple – fishing, the sound of a creek, and cooking good food. Although now a free man, he states he is “very tired” after the whole ordeal.

Another harrowing episode is True East. A Muslim boy’s family is murdered, and the key suspects are immediately the boy, Atif Ray, and his best friend, Sebastian Burns. I had to chuckle at the start when the police suspect the two young teenagers of murder because of their studious fondness of the pessimistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, apparently proving they have similar nihilistic tendencies. But it becomes more serious when Canadian police adopt a controversial (and now illegal) method and lure the two suspects into believing they befriend some well-respected criminals, who are actually police actors, all in an attempt to elicit a confession.

Sebastian Burns & Atif Ray

 Sebastian Burns & Atif Ray

After many months of fake encounters with fake gangsters, the suspects are eventually led to believe that DNA evidence is suddenly held by the police (which it isn’t) proving they are killers, and that the criminals can destroy this police evidence if they confess to them the murders. They confess, and shockingly this confusing plot holds up in court. The problem is, evidently, that if you believe the government have fake evidence against you, you might do just about anything to save your own skin, including falsely confess a murder to mobsters. The lines are clearly blurred between genuine and false confession, nevertheless, there are detrimental consequences for Ray and Burns.

Other episodes include Down River, which really had me stumped as to whether the culprit Lawrence Delisle intentionally drives his family into a river or simply experiences a leg cramp, as he claims. His interrogation by police is compared with hypnotism, with questionable psychological techniques being used to grill the suspect and lead him to what some think was a nervous breakdown during interview, prompting a false confession. Trial by Fire is another interesting episode in which I struggled to reach my own verdict. Many of the stories are told in an unbiased light, leaving the audience to make up their own minds on whether the suspects are guilty or innocent. Some remain a mystery, whilst others seem starkly obvious that justice has been misplaced.

 Lawrence Delisle

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