New Jersey police interrogated a man with severe learning disabilities for thirty hours during a forty hour period when he was considered one of two suspects in the murder of his girlfriend’s two children. After the questioning by police led to a signed confession, officers stopped investigating the other suspect in the murder case.
In 1985, Byron Halsey was living with his girlfriend, helping raise her two children in a rooming house in Plainfield, New Jersey. On the night of the children’s murders, Halsey was driven across town by his neighbor, Clifton Hall, the second suspect in the case. Hall dropped off Halsey and then drove home. The children were all alone in the apartment that night because their mother was working.
When Halsey walked home, he found the children missing and began calling relatives and his girlfriend at work to find out where the children might be. Tragically, the two children were found dead in the basement of the rooming house the next morning by Clifton Hall, the neighbor who happened to be the repairman for the building.
Both Halsey and Hall were immediately considered suspects by police in the death of the two children. However, once police obtained the signed confession from Halsey, they stopped investigating Hall. Although, Halsey was unable to initially give correct answers as to the location of the children’s bodies and their manner of death, and had to guess several times before he correctly answered the questions, his confession does not contain the inaccuracies in his answers. The interrogation statements were not audio and were not video recorded either.
Halsey was charged with murdering and assaulting the two children. The prosecutors in the case argued that he had included false information intentionally in order to avoid conviction. The key witness for the prosecution was the other suspect, Clifton Hall, the man who found the children’s bodies. Although other witnesses corroborated Halsey’s whereabouts and timeline that night, the jury still convicted him of two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated sexual assault.
Halsey spent the next nineteen years of his life in prison. In 1993, Halsey repeatedly requested access to post-conviction DNA testing, and was denied each time. After writing thousands of letters for years, in 2006, his letters caught the attention of the Innocence Project and the organization was able to secure testing of evidence from the crime scene in the form of semen and cigarette butts. The results not only proved Halsey’s innocence, but implicated his neighbor, Clifton Hall, in the crimes. Hall was serving time for three separate sex crimes when the results of the DNA testing were revealed.
Halsey was freed from prison in May of 2007, though he was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet while prosecutors reinvestigated the crimes.
Halsey’s charges were dropped on July 9, 2007, and he was officially exonerated of the crimes and charges against him. He spent nearly half of his life in solitary confinement for crimes he did not commit because of the intense interrogation by police officers, which led him to sign a paper drafted by the detectives, a paper which he found out later, was a confession of his guilt in the murders of the children.
Halsey now has a federal civil rights suit pending in New Jersey against the Plainfield and Union County officials involved in both his arrest and prosecution.
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