When police questioned a father far from Clarksville, they told him his infant son was near death and that if the man didn't confess to abusing the boy, they would arrest the baby's mother.
The 2011 documentary, "Scenes of a Crime," shines a spotlight on the arrest and conviction for murder of a New York man who confessed to the abuse and then recanted when he went to trial.
The makers of the film about Adrian Thomas think the threats, lies and other psychological tactics used by police in conducting interrogations significantly raises the risk that innocent people confess to crimes in order to bring the questioning to a close.
One of the detectives who questioned Thomas for nine hours admits early in the documentary: "When we're speaking to you, we're of course lying."
An appeals court last month upheld Thomas's murder conviction.
The directors used extensive video of the recorded interrogation, along with interviews with criminal defense attorneys and others involved to make their case that Thomas, who didn't have an attorney at the time of the questioning, is a victim of a system much hungrier for convictions than it is for justice.
Thomas was interrogated over two days after his four-month-old son was found unconscious in his crib. Doctors believed the boy was unlikely to survive, but police repeatedly told Thomas that the boy could be saved if Thomas would confess to the crime.
Thomas, who weighs 500 pounds, eventually confessed to violently throwing the boy on a mattress three times in the four days prior to the child's death.
At trial, doctors testified the boy died of swelling of the brain consistent with trauma. The defendant's expert witnesses said the boy died of a blood infection.
Thomas, who had an attorney at trial, said his confession should be inadmissible because he was misled and pressured by "false promises, misrepresentations and threats."
A jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to 25 years to life.
An appeals court last month ruled that the officers conducting the interrogation employed "permissible strategies aimed at eliciting the truth."
One of the directors said the film was made to challenge the belief that no one would give "a full-throated admission of guilt," complete with details of a crime they did not commit.
Source: Thomson Reuters: "Film puts 'false confessions' in the spotlight," April 13, 2012