The Murder You Didn’t Commit

I’ve read so much about the unreliability of eyewitnesses. (For example, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/.) But can you trust your own memory?

Ada JoAnn Taylor confessed to suffocating a sixty-eight-year-old widow in 1989 and for two decades believed she was guilty. As a result, she served more than nineteen years in prison before being pardoned when DNA evidence proved her innocence. She was actually one of six people accused of this murder. Five took plea bargains, two had such strong feelings they still had vivid memories even after being freed. And yet, a Nebraska assistant attorney general announced in early 2009 that the six people were innocent “not beyond a reasonable doubt but beyond all doubt.”

Eli Chesen, the psychiatrist who evaluated them after their release, said “They still believed to varying degrees that they had blood on their hands. You have a group of people who are led to share the same delusion, at the same time, with major consequences. Their new beliefs superseded their previous life experiences, like paper covering a rock.”

So how do we describe our minds? Aristotle thought of a wax tablet. Freud called it a “mystic writing-pad. Other descriptions have ranged from a telephone switchboard to video tape. This case proves there is still a lot we don’t understand.

A case of this magnitude, with six defendants who become convinced they’re guilty, gets pretty detailed. So the complete story is “Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit: DNA evidence exonerated six convicted killers. So why do some of them recall the crime so clearly?” by Rachel Aviv (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/19/remembering-the-murder-you-didnt-commit?)

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