Monday, July 5, 2004

Wrong women held for weeks in jail

False confessions discovered later

The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - One woman spent weeks in jail and another was held for nearly six months before authorities realized they weren't the criminals wanted in a suburban bank robbery.

Latosha Haliburton was arrested May 26 at her mother's home as her 5-year-old daughter looked on. She and Afton Cain were released June 18, after a federal judge granted a prosecution motion to dismiss the charges.

Cain, 18, had been in jail since Christmas Eve after telling investigators she was one of two women pictured in a photo at a bank robbery. She told a judge March 22 that her statement was false.

Haliburton and Cain are not the two women sought in a Dec. 22 robbery at Provident Bank in Kettering, federal officials said. Federal prosecutors in Dayton said it's the first time in at least 17 years that they've learned they arrested the wrong people.

Kettering police say Cain's mother, Deborah Moore, contacted them to say her daughter might be one of two women shown in a televised surveillance camera photo of the robbery suspects. FBI agents and Kettering police arrested Cain on Christmas Eve at the same apartment complex on Euclid Avenue where Haliburton lived. Haliburton said she did not know Cain, who lived on a different floor.

The agents and officers testified that they questioned Cain for about 40 minutes as she denied the woman in the picture was her.

Then her interrogators changed tactics. Cain told Judge Thomas Rose that officers kept telling her to do what her 3-year-old nephew would want her to do. After that, she gave a verbal and written statement that mentioned following another girl into an unidentified place and holding a gun.

Cain was held without bail until her release. Deborah Moore declined to be interviewed with her daughter last week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Knief said he's never had a case with a false confession in his career, which includes three years in Dayton plus stints in Washington, D.C., and Seattle. "I would do it all again," Knief said. "We didn't go out looking for her."

Haliburton's ordeal began about two months after Cain was jailed.

FBI agents came to her apartment in late February or early March and told her she "had to talk to them about a bank robbery," she said.

The agents took her to a federal building in downtown Dayton. After a couple of hours of questioning, an agent showed her the surveillance camera photo.

She insisted it wasn't her.

"They kept telling me, 'That is you! That is you!' I said, 'She looks taller than me. And she looks thicker than me.' He said, 'You could have lost weight.'"

After eight hours of questioning, agents released her. The 24-year-old mother said she heard nothing until her May arrest, when agents took her from her mother's house in her pajamas.

The women were freed after new information arrived at the U.S. Attorney's office June 17. Knief said the information came in about 4:30 p.m. and he started calling attorneys for Haliburton and Cain.

Anderson, Cain's attorney, was at the National Criminal Defenders College in Macon, Ga.

"I got the call while I was in the middle of a lecture on false confessions," Anderson said.

He said the best way to prevent false confessions is to record police interviews. He said in cases he has handled, FBI agents routinely do not record interviews.

A spokesman for the FBI did not return a message left on his voice mail Sunday.

Since her release, Haliburton said, "All I do is sleep now. I don't have no appetite." But "my family's been real supportive. All my neighbors. I'm just real grateful for everything."

Knief said of the real female bank robbers: "There is no need for the public or the banks to be concerned about those individuals."

He refused to elaborate.

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