John Spirko was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a rural postmaster and is now on death row in Ohio. He is awaiting execution — barring an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Bob Taft — that’s likely to come this year, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The newspaper explores whether an investigator actually solved the murder.
The newspaper says that much of the key evidence in the case came from unrecorded interviews of Spirko by the investigator. Today, deep into the age of DNA evidence, more police agencies are requiring video or audio recordings of suspect interrogations – especially in homicide cases – because so many documented cases of wrongful convictions have involved faulty confessions. Of 18 death-row inmates exonerated in Illinois, half were originally convicted based on what turned out to be false confessions or witness statements, said Northwestern University law Prof. Steven Drizin. Notes of even the best police interrogators have been shown to contain significant errors when compared with tape recordings, he said. Notes are also notorious for omitting critical details. “That’s why you need taped interrogations,” said Drizin.