by Dr. John Masterson
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics
Michigan State University
"Almost all police lie about whether they violated the Constitution in order to convict guilty defendants." (Alan M. Dershowitz, "The Best Defense," at xxi (1982))
Across the nation police officers have engaged in corruption and malfeasance in criminal cases across the country which have yielded wrongful convictions. It should come as no surprise that Michigan is no outlier to these abuses of power.
An abundance of research has proven that "[p]olice falsification, or 'testilying' is the most common form of police corruption." (Tracey Maclin, Professor of Law, Boston University, "Race and the Fourth Amendment," 51 Vand. L. Rev. 333, 380 (1998))
According to Laura Cohen, Clinical Professor of Law, Director of Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, Rutgers School of Law-Newark, and author of "Freedom's Road: Youth, Parole, and the Promise of
Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida," 35 Cardozo L. Rev. 1031, 1085 (2014):
"The causes of wrongful convictions are legion, including, among others, erroneous eyewitness identification, false confessions, failures of science, ineffective assistance of counsel, law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct, overzealousness, and use of unreliable informants."
Shortly after the March 15, 1989 arrest of fifteen-year-old Efrén Paredes, Jr. thirty-one years ago, the narrative about the event quickly focused on an alleged statement attributed to Efrén which was manufactured by the arresting officer in the case, William Tucker of the Berrien County Sheriff's Department.
The prosecution used Tucker's statement to prejudice Efrén and never attempted to question its veracity when cross-examining him during trial. It was a strategic decision done to disallow Efrén the opportunity to offer to the jury his own version of events that actually transpired.
"Even amid a documented history of police corruption in the form of perjury -- lying in reports and lying on the witness stand -- prosecutors regularly ... file charges based on the unexamined word of the arresting officer." (Steven Zeidman, Professor, CUNY School of Law, "From Dropsy to Testilying: Prosecutorial Apathy, Ennui, or Complicity?," 16 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 423, 424 (2019))
Why Efrén's defense attorney failed to inquire about his arrest during his trial is anyone's guess. From the time of his arrest until his trial Efrén made clear to his attorney multiple times that he didn't make the statement attributed to him by Tucker after he learned about the statement he manufactured.
Between the time of his arrest and his original sentencing four months later media outlets that breathlessly reported about the crime Efrén was charged with never reached out to him for a response to the Tucker statement. They simply reported Tucker's false claims and recklessly disseminated them as facts.
For context it's important to begin this story by introducing another criminal attorney named Tat Parish whose name was frequently used during Efrén's trial by the prosecution. Parish was their family attorney who prepared Efrén's parents' wills and assisted them with any other legal matters that arose.
Parish and the family had been friends and next door neighbors for several years. Efrén and his two younger brothers were also friends with Parish's sons who were close in age to each other. The kids spent time in each other's yards and homes regularly.
Parish was a criminal defense attorney very familiar with the type of misconduct that some members of law enforcement engage in through his experience with them in courtrooms over the years. He not only protected members of the general public against false allegations in trials, he also defended police officers accused of crimes.
Over the years Parish had conversations with Efrén and his own children as they were growing up about their rights regarding police contact. He instructed them that if a member of law enforcement were to ever accuse them of any wrongdoing, they didn't commit they should inform the officer that he, Parish, was their attorney.
The kids were also counseled to not make statements to police outside the presence of an attorney. This was to avoid having the kids be coerced into making any false statements without a witness present that could be used against them later.
The afternoon of March 15, 1989 Efrén's mother received a phone call from an attorney in Parish's office named Philip Riley. Riley informed Efrén's mother that he had just spoken to another local attorney and learned that Efrén may be arrested that day in connection with the murder and robbery of a store manager that occurred a week earlier.
Riley asked Efrén's mother to pick him up from school and take him to their home so if he actually was arrested, they could be there to witness things as opposed to him being arrested at school. He also instructed Efrén's mother to convey to Efrén that if he is arrested to let them know Parish is his attorney and not to answer any questions from police outside of the presence of his attorney.
Shortly thereafter Efrén's mother called her husband at work, told him about the details of the phone call they received, and asked him to pick Efrén up from school, which he did. Upon Efrén getting into the car his father briefly told him about the phone call he received from his mother and told him they would get more details when they arrived home. (There were no cellphones when this occurred in 1989.)
When they arrived at their home, they were met by Efrén's mother, two brothers, and extended members of their family. Upon their arrival Efrén's mother offered more details from the phone call with Riley including the instruction for Efrén to tell police Parish is his attorney and not to answer any police questions outside the presence of his attorney.
A short time later, at approximately 4:57 pm, police cars surrounded their home. Detective Tucker entered the garage which was connected to the home and knocked on the door to the kitchen of the home. Upon entering the kitchen he told Efrén he was under arrest.
When Tucker handcuffed Efrén and read him his Miranda rights Efrén immediately informed him in the presence of his family that Tat Parish was his attorney just as he had been instructed to do. Tucker acknowledged this in the report he made regarding the arrest.
Tucker handcuffed Efrén and he was then escorted out to a police car parked in the driveway by Lincoln Township Police Department Chief Daniel Robinson. The car had officers seated in the front of the car and Efrén was placed in the backseat of the car. While seated in the car Efrén remained silent and didn't speak to anyone, nor did any officers claim that he did in any police reports.
A short time later Tucker returned to the squad car alone and ordered Efrén to exit the car and accompany him to an unmarked police car parked at the end of the driveway. Tucker placed Efrén in the front seat of the police car next to him rather than in the back seat, which is typical for people who have been charged with murder. No one else was in the car other than Tucker and Efrén.
Tucker then proceeded to drive Efrén to the Berrien County Jail. During the drive Tucker began telling Efrén that the other boys who had already been arrested in connection to the crime had "dumped" on him. Tucker told him the police had "the gun" from the murder and they (the police) knew he killed the victim whose death he was being charged with.
As Tucker continued rambling, became belligerent, and attempted to badger him Efrén remarked, "I told you Tat Parish is my attorney. I can't answer any questions until he's there." Tucker quickly became visibly angry at Efrén's unwillingness to talk and their exchange abruptly ended.
Upon arriving at the jail Tucker escorted Efrén into the building and took him to an interrogation room where two other officers were present. Once in the room one of the officers offered Efrén a Miranda card. He asked him to sign it and tell them about the crime he was arrested for.
Efrén had no clue what a Miranda card was at the time nor had he ever heard of one. He refused to sign the card and immediately informed the officer who offered it to him that Tat Parish was his attorney and he would be making no statement outside the presence of his attorney.
The officer grew angry with Efrén's unwillingness to cooperate and began yelling at him. He began threatening Efrén telling him if he didn't tell them what happened he was going to "get fucked" and "die in prison." Despite being terrified by what was occurring Efrén still refused to speak to the officers.
A short time later the officers received a phone call telling them Efrén's attorney was there to see Efrén. The officers placed Efrén in an elevator and took him to see the attorney. The attorney, Paul Jancha, informed Efrén that Tat Parish sent him to talk to him and let him know that Parish would be visiting him later that evening.
Parish wanted to remain present at Efrén's parents' home while a search warrant was being conducted at the home by several police officers. Jancha again reminded Efrén not to speak to anyone at the jail outside the presence of his attorney.
Later that afternoon Tucker fabricated a police report falsely claiming that during their drive alone in the car Efrén told him he was waiving his right to have an attorney present and stated, "Fuck you ... I'm only 15, and I ain't going to do no time. You can't prove nothing."
According to Efrén, "Tucker's statement is completely false. I never said anything even remotely close to that. I was in handcuffs and completely terrified kid at the time. I had respect for law enforcement and believed they were good people."
He added, "I didn't know anything about wrongful convictions or that officers will lie if they don't get their way. I had never been arrested before and the officer was sitting next to me carrying a loaded gun. There is no way I would have said anything like that to him."
Tucker appeared before Berrien County District Court Judge Daniel R. Deja less than a half-hour prior to Efrén's arrest. During a probable cause hearing lasting only a mere eleven minutes Tucker rushed to present information to the judge he obtained from an informant named Steve Miller in an effort to convince him to issue a warrant for Efrén's arrest.
Miller, a drug dealer at the time, was admittedly connected with the planning of the crime and never charged by the Berrien County Prosecutor. A decade later he was charged and convicted in an unrelated case in federal court for drug trafficking.
Because he was the person to obtain the warrant for Efrén's arrest Tucker felt pressured to justify his reasoning for doing so by trying to coerce an incriminating statement from Efrén. However, once Efrén stated he had an attorney and wouldn't answer questions regarding the case Tucker felt compelled to manufacture a statement for him.
Tucker refused to accept that he could have made a mistake. He also refused to allow himself to be embarrassed by a 15-year-old he couldn't coerce into speaking to him and provide him with any helpful information for the investigation. His confirmation bias prevented him from being able to gather evidence and view things objectively.
According to D. Kim Rossmo and Joycelyn M. Pollock authors of the academic journal article, "Confirmation Bias and Other Systemic Causes of Wrongful Convictions," 11 Ne. U. L. Rev. 790, 814 (2019):
"Confirmation bias is a type of selective thinking. Once a hypothesis has been formed, our inclination is to confirm rather than refute it. We tend to look for supporting information, interpret ambiguous information as consistent with our beliefs, and minimize any inconsistent evidence. Types of confirmation bias include: (1) the biased search for evidence; (2) the biased interpretation of information; and (3) a biased memory (selective recall)."
They add, "Unfortunately, there have been several cases where detectives refused to abandon the original suspect, justifying their intransigence through highly convoluted reasoning. Critical thinking requires effort, and an entrenched position, even an untenable one, can persist through psychological lethargy and organizational momentum."
Efrén exercising his constitutional rights at the time of his arrest was negatively colored when people -- including jurors at his trial -- heard that he immediately told police he had an attorney when he was arrested, and that he declined to speak to officers outside the presence of his attorney.
They had no idea that Efrén already knew he may be arrested before it actually occurred. They also didn't know he had previously received instructions from two different attorneys, including only minutes before his arrest, about what to do if he were to have any negative contact with police.
Because people were unaware of this, some negatively perceived Efrén's mention of already having an attorney as evidence that he had something to hide or that it implied some sort of guilt or wrongdoing.
Efrén simply followed the advice of counsel who sought to ensure he asserted his constitutional right to remain silent and not answer any police questions outside the presence of an attorney, to protect him from overzealous officers like Tucker trying to make a name for themselves.
Laurie L. Levenson, Professor of Law & William M. Rains Fellow, Loyola Law School, writes:
"[I]t is entirely understandable why an innocent person might assert his Miranda rights. After all, it should not be surprising that a person, who has just been told that he has the right not to answer questions, chooses not to answer questions. It is bizarre to think that anyone who believes he has been erroneously arrested should automatically disregard his rights and try to appeal to the people who just effected the arrest."
She adds, "While most defendants do waive their Miranda rights, a person who truly believes he has been improperly arrested for a serious crime might actually decide that he needs the assistance of counsel before interacting further with the police." (Laurie L. Levenson, "The Problem with Cynical Prosecutor's Syndrome," 20 Berkeley J. Crim. L. 335, 359 (2015))
Studies have also shown that guilty suspects may be more likely to waive Miranda rights "when they have strong world beliefs that cause them to comply with social standards." (Kyle C. Sherr & Andrew S. Franks, "The World is Not Fair: An Examination of Innocent and Guilty Suspects Waiver Decisions," 39 Law and Hum. Behav. 142, 148 (2015))
(To learn more about the case of Efrén Paredes, Jr. or how you can support his campaign for justice visit http://Bitly.com/FreeEfren and http://fb.com/Free.Efren.)