Court of Appeals to Determine Police Deception Limits

, New York Law Journal


Adrian Thomas waits alone in the interrogation room of the Troy police station
In a still from the documentary "Scenes of a Crime," Adrian Thomas waits alone in the interrogation room of the Troy police station in 2008.

Jurors were able to watch Thomas constantly resist the various good cop-bad cop tactics, insults to his manhood, accusations and entreaties. They were also able to watch detectives lie and eventually obtain a confession.

Throughout the questioning, Thomas repeatedly insisted that he did not hurt his child and did not know how the boy could have sustained a head injury. He finally confessed when a detective falsely told the suspect that doctors needed to know precisely what happened so they could save Matthew's life.

At that point, the detective knew what Thomas did not, that the baby was brain dead and would not survive.

The detective suggested to the 500-pound Thomas that perhaps he had roughly thrown the baby into his crib and handed the suspect a binder to demonstrate. Thomas threw the binder on the floor and signed a confession stating that he had thrown the baby onto a mattress several times.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Edward Spain (See Profile), the Third Department upheld Thomas' conviction to second-degree murder charges and the 25-year-to-life sentence imposed by Rensselaer County Judge Andrew Ceresia (See Profile) (NYLJ, March 23, 2012). It said the police officers' "repeated misrepresentations" were not of the sort that would "create a substantial risk that he [Thomas] might falsely incriminate himself."

Critically, the court also upheld a key ruling in which Ceresia, after conducting a Frye hearing (see Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), refused to allow testimony from a social psychologist.

Richard Ofshe, an expert in psychological coercion who has testified in dozens of cases, was expected to explain to the jury how police play mind games with suspects, and how those games can induce an innocent person to falsely confess to a crime. But Ceresia found that Ofshe's theories were not generally accepted in the scientific community and would not let him testify.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Jerome Frost of Troy will face off against Assistant Rensselaer County District Attorney Kelly Egan.

"The Troy Police made more promises and misstatements to Adrian Thomas than the proverbial snake oil salesman," Frost said in his brief.

Frost observed that over the course of the 9 1/2-hour interrogation, police told his client 67 times that they viewed the matter as an accident and not a crime, 21 times that the child was alive and savable, 14 times that he would not be arrested, eight times that he was going home that night and three times that he would not be held criminally responsible.

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