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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  April 22, 2018 3:00am-4:00am PDT

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well, he can. and he will. and he does. and he is. it's not over. it's not a done deal, see the individual. that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thanks for watching. i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." we, the jury, find the defendant guilty. >> you actually think they read the wrong verdict. >> you feel so alone and hopeless. >> it's like a shot in the chest. >> despair to hope. darkness to light. a fight for freedom. >> what happened to this teenager could happen to any one ourhildre >> at 18, he was arresd for murder. adamant he was innocent.
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>> i had nothing to do with this. i swear to god. >> what could have possibly led to this? >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> why would he confess to something he didn't do? >> why would he? what really happened during that police interrogation? >> the evidence shows you were there. i can't lie about the evidence. >> i can't lie to you about this but the officer is lying about lying. >> an extraordinary look inside the interview room. >> if you don't talk i can't keep you from the worst. >> i was scared. i was shaken. >> this was one of the most intense interrogations i have ever seen. welcome to "dateline". how could you confess to a crime you didn't commit? it seems to defy logic and common sense, but advocates say, it happens far more often than any of us realize. here's keith morrison with "the
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interrogation." >> a freak snowstorm. like an omen. smothered the little town in the blue ridge mountains. february 19th, 2003, just before 9:00 a.m. winter or no, virginia was unused to this. then through the white blanket that blanketed the town, a piercing sound. fire alarm. now the snow storm was the last thing on the fire chief's mind. >> the tone went off for fire of occupants possibly trapped inside. ramps everything up to full force. >> the alarm on a quiet street lined with starter homes. cling lane. >> there were a lot of kids in that neighborhood. you are running a lot of things through your mind when you go in there? who are the occupants that you're going to have to rescue? >> the fire trucks raced to the home of a recently separated woman named ann charles and her three children. thick black smoke poured from the second story eaves. part of the roof had already
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burned away. >> we were concentrating on getting up the steps and getting into those rooms that we were pretty sure we had victims. >> neighbors crowded in behind police barricades and one was an 18-year-old who lived up the street with a single mom. an awkward sort of kid. a bit immature for his age. he had strep throat that morning, was taking antibiotics but nothing could keep him from this. his name was robert davis. >> everybody goes down there and starts watching. >> was the fire department there? >> yes, they were by then. we sat there and watched for about five minutes. and then one of the fire department people asked us to go to a truck that was maybe 100 yards, 200 yards away. it felt good being able to help out. >> kari greenly lived next-door. she stood beside robert, watched the fire. worried about the pretty young mother trapped in there. and charles. >> she would come outside and play with the kids and we would
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talk here and there. but she was a really nice person. >> and then something good. ann's two daughters, katie and wendy, escaped unharmed from the downstairs bedrooms. but that left ann and little thomas, just 3 years old, unaccounted for. somewhere upstairs. >> we put the fire out and then we started checking the bedroom for occupants. >> nothing good after that. upstairs, firemen found little thomas on the floor beneath the window. dead of smoke inhalation. chief gentry steeled himself for -- he felt his way through debris and lingering smoke to ann's room. >> i crawled over to the bunk bed, and that's where we found a victim in the bunk bed, and that person was secured in the bunk bed. both hands and both legs were secured. >> tied up? >> yep, tied up. >> now, that put an entirely different complexion on things.
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this wasn't just a fire. >> so what did that tell you? >> right there, that keys up, this is a crime scene. we basically extinguished the fire and left everything as-is. >> then forensics investigator larry claytor took over. >> the one thing that jumped out there that was out of place was a 5 gallon bucket sitting right in the middle of the living room floor with an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol. >> an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol. >> right. it didn't look like it belonged there. >> upstairs scattered near ann's body, he found three aerosol cans. quite probably also accelerants. all of that liquid kindling for murder. >> there was a blob of melted plastic consistent with a smoke detector melted and laying on the floor. and then there was a battery. a nine-volt battery that looked like it would go to a smoke detector in the sink. >> somebody had taken it out of the smoke detector. >> that's what it appeared to be
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someone had removed it. >> so cruel and deliberate. all the more shocking in a town where murder is exceedingly rare. said detective phil giles. >> it's not a common occurrence of homicide. >> how did it hit you and members of the department? >> you have a victim and then a child. the child, of course, that always touches you in a different way. excuse me. because it's a 3-year-old child. >> these things do touch you personally, don't they? yeah. >> outside, the curious onlookers were a beat behind. all they knew is that ann charles and her little boy were no more. >> it's just devastated me. i was in shock, especially about that little boy. >> yeah. >> still didn't know what had happened, really. >> it wasn't long though. watching the silent stern faces streaming in and out of that little house. a person couldn't help but put two and two together.
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>> it was very scary and i think the whole neighborhood was scared. right there in that very neighborhood, police would find their suspects. coming up -- >> they had recovered a knife. >> quick work from investigators. two suspects, two confessions. >> it was supposed to be routine. we go in and find the purse. we get the money and then we leave. >> were they telling the truth? when "dateline" continues. protect your pets from fleas and ticks with frontline plus for dogs and frontline plus for cats. its two killer ingredients work fast and keep working all month long preventing new flea infestations on your pet. frontline plus. the number 1 name in flea and tick protection. you won't find relief here. congestion and pressure? go to the pharmacy counter for powerful claritin-d.
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at first it was a little rumor that spread around. but soon everybody knew it was true. it wasn't any ordinary fire robert davis witnessed on cling lane. >> you hear about it in the grocery store or the gas station or stuff like that. >> it was clear that it was a murder. >> yes, sir. >> ann charles and her 3-year-old son were dead, horribly. the forensics man, larry claytor, got a better look at it than anybody. >> this is probably one of the more horrendous cases i had worked in my career. >> larry couldn't give investigators much to go on. a few small footprints out back in the snow. but forget dna. any possibility of finding that was flushed away by fire hoses. >> and then i get word from the
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medical examiner's office that they had recovered a knife that was sticking in the woman's back. what did you think when you heard that? >> i went back to my photographs and, sure enough, in the middle of her back was the knife. >> so someone stabbed her. but who? firefighters tipped police that a brother/sister duo across the street, rocky and jessica fugett, had been watching the fire, claimed to know the victims. robert davis and his friend, kevin marsh, knew them as aggressive troublemakers in high school. >> people were afraid of them. if they come through the hallway, people would move out the way for them. try not to be around them. >> kevin's friend, shy and awkward robert, seemed to be a favorite target. >> they used to pick on him all the time. called him retarded. fat, ugly, stupid. >> robert said he tried to ignore it, but they knew his vulnerabilities. >> i tried to keep my distance from them when i could and stay cordial when we were in close proximity to each other. >> safer that way, said robert.
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in any case, the detectives paid a visit to the fugetts' house where they learned enough to march the pair down to police headquarters two days later for questioning. rocky admitted he was there. to rob the place. >> i was in the house. i started out downstairs. jessica went upstairs first. i was supposed to watch. >> detective phil giles interviewed jessica. >> she eventually acknowledged. she tried to say it was somebody else first. and then at some point put herself there. >> it was supposed to be routine. we go in, find her purse, get the money and leave. that was all that was supposed to happen. >> but then rocky way off script. said jessica. tied ann to the bed with duct tape and turned it into murder. >> who set the place on fire? >> rocky. >> who cut ann's throat? >> rocky. >> who stabbed ann in the back? >> rocky.
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>> jessica told detective giles the murder weapons were a kitchen knife and a metal rod for bludgeoning. which they stashed in a hole out behind ann's house. >> she said we probably couldn't find it without her. we drove her out there until we walked t entire path until we got to the holesnd did it right there. we had the evince folks with us. and reached in. discovered those two items over there. >> what was that like? >> you know these are intimate details and only those involved are going to know where the instruments were used to kill someone. >> that was that. they had their story and their culprits. except there was one more very significant detail offered up by both jessica and rocky. something the town's rumor mill failed to catch by the time kevin and robert went out for the evening a couple of days later. >> we went bowling. we went out to eat. just had a grand old time. >> by that time, it was after midnight and about time to go
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home to bed. >> we were sitting in the parking lot talking, just laughing. and all of the sudden, multiple police cars pull up and get up, guns drawn. they order me out of the vehicle first. they get me walking backwards to them with my hands up. >> then, through all the terror and confusion, it dawned on kevin marsh. it wasn't him they had come for. >> so then i see them getting robert out, kicking him by his feet, knocking him to the ground. ramming his face into the asphalt. putting him in handcuffs. >> the story the fugetts told the police, they had accomplices when they murdered ann charles, and one was robert davis. coming up -- >> i was scared. i was shaking. >> now, it would be robert davis' turn in the interrogation room. >> why don't you tell me, robert, what took place that night. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> by all accounts, including his own, robert davis was a mama's boy. because of his child-like ways perhaps or his learning disabilities, maybe. >> he's easy to play. he's like me. he's got a kind heart. he's gullible. >> robert seemed to need his mother, sandy, to protect him from the big, bad world. while he took care of her when she was attacked by chronic illness.
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medication for which tends to slur her speech. >> he's a big dude, but he is a teddy bear. he always wanted to grow up and be in health care, in nursing like i was. >> mind you, robert did get into trouble once, a petty theft. his learning disabilities landed him in a special school for several years. but the good thing, a family acquaintance was a school police resource officer. his name was randy snead. he had known robert and his mom for years. robert looked up to randy, trusted him. so when officer snead, now a detective with the albemarle county police, came looking for robert after the fire, sandy told him without hesitation where he could find her son. >> i said, is robert in trouble? he said, he's in serious trouble. >> sandy had no idea just how serious. or what was about to happen in that parking lot where robert was hanging out with his friend.
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>> guns pointed at you. you're wondering what's going on. i was scared. i was shaking. >> why robert? the fugett siblings told police they had accomplices from high school and he was one of them. another one was pulled in the same night and interviewed by detective giles and his partner. >> at the end of the interview, we both looked at each other and this kid had no idea what we're talking about. he was clueless what we were asking. >> so the fugetts lied. >> the kid was eventually released. but robert? robert had a far different experience in the interview room and a different detective. >> and there sitting across from you was randy snead. >> randy snead, yeah. >> you knew him. >> i knew him since i was 12 or 13. so i was on a first-name basis with him. >> kind of a friend. >> yes, because i'm known him for so long. >> why don't you tell me what took place that night. >> that night? i was at my house.
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>> at first, robert swore he was innocent. but six hours later, he had confessed to murder. >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> one or two times. >> everything you told me is true, correct? >> yes. >> everything you've done and been part of is true. >> true. >> later that day, officer snead allowed robert to call his mother. >> i said, robert, what did you say? he said, since they wanted to hear that, i told them fine. >> what did it feel like in here when you heard that from your son? >> i felt like i was going to have a heart attack and die. >> around the neighborhood, people who had known robert for years couldn't believe it. >> he was always polite. mannerable. i knew robert was a follower. and i still couldn't believe that robert was involved. >> and yet, the boy said it himself.
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>> why would he confess to something that he didn't do? >> robert's mother couldn't afford an attorney so the state appointed one for him. steve rosenfield. >> what was your impression of him when you first met him? >> robert was scared to death from the first meeting and forever. >> and then robert told attorney rosenfield just about what you'd expect an accused murderer might say. he didn't do it. he didn't stab anybody. he wasn't even there. he only confessed, he said, because he was so scared. >> did you push hard enough to find out whether or not he was actually telling you the truth or playing you? >> i take what the client tells me and i do an independent evaluation based on what i learn. >> so he watched the tape of robert's confession. which didn't look right to him. besides -- >> there was no physical evidence at the crime scene to tie robert to the crime. >> but just as intriguing was this question.
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>> why would rocky and jessica include a kid like robert? >> the fugett siblings as the kids at school and the neighborhood knew bullied robert mercilessly and he was terrified of them. surely, he wouldn't help them murder the neighbor lady. yet, rocky fugett was going to tell the court just that. >> his lawyer advised me that rocky wanted to get a favorable sentencing and was going to be testifying against robert. >> so big problems. rosenfield knew from long experience that any jury hearing rocky's testimony and robert's confession would certainly convict. robert would very probably get a life sentence, no parole. robert's only chance at ever getting out of prison was to agree to something called an alford plea. >> we told robert that, if you
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plead guilty under an alford plea, you admit there is sufficient evidence to prove your guilt but you do not admit that you're guilty. >> it meant accepting a 23-year prison sentence. it meant he could never file an appeal. >> 37 years of practice, it is the hardest decision i've made to strongly recommend a client to take a plea for something he didn't do. >> but at least it wasn't life. he was sentenced at 20, would be free in his early 40s. >> the day i was standing in front of the judge, accepting that alford plea, crying, and just praying that one day, hopefully, the truth will come out that i wasn't there. >> the fugetts avoided the death penalty but got what amounted to life without parole. and steve rosenfield faithfully drove out to visit robert in prison knowing the only way to get him out was to persuade the virginia governor to issue a pardon. fat chance of that. >> it's a pretty big longshot of getting him out before the
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23 years from which he was sentenced. >> and then? two years after robert went to prrosenfield opened the mail and found a letter from, of all people, rocky fugett. >> dear mr. rosenfield, i have some information about robert that i think can be awfully beneficial. you're welcome to come visit me. >> snail mail. rest assured, steve rosenfield's drive to the prison was much quicker. coming up -- >> this is one of the most intense interrogations that i've ever seen. >> that interrogation would soon be the key to the case. >> i can't lie about the evidence. >> he's lying about lying. >> when "dateline" continues. ny claritin and relief from symptoms caused by over 200 allergens. like those from buddy. because stuffed animals are clearly no substitute for real ones. feel the clarity and live claritin clear.
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i'm dara brown. the top stories. president trump doesn't expect michael cohen to flip and start cooperating with the government investigators n a tweet today,
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the president accused "the new york times" of trying to destroy cohen and his relationship with trump. mitt romney will face a primary in his senate bid after failing to win the bid at the state gop convention. romney finished just behind mike kennedy, utah state -- now back to "dateline." attorney steve rosenfield was in for a surprise. rocky wanted to sign a sworn affidavit saying robert davis was innocent, had nothing to do with the murders. >> that was pretty powerful for him to do that, considering his circumstances. nothing to gain. >> but roc'sdmsion wn't enough to undo robert's coession. >> and then seven years into robert's prison sentence, rosenfield answered a phone call.
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and there she was. laura nirider of northwestern university's innocence project is a leading expert in false confessions by young people. she had heard about robert's case and offered to help. and help us understand what happened to robert as we watched the interrogation unfold. >> this is one of the most intense interrogations i have ever seen. >> you have the right to remain silent. anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. >> you have these officers very, very close to robert. he is a big guy. pushed into that corner. increasing the pressure without even touching him. >> randy snead, a man robert has long trusted, begins the interview at 2:00 a.m., by which time robert has been awake 18 hours. >> never in that house. >> no. >> again and again. more than 70 times. >> start telling the truth. >> i am telling the truth. >> robert insists he is innocent. >> i have nothing to do with
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this. i swear to god. >> nine times, robert asks for a polygraph. >> i will take a polygraph test right now. i am being honest. i will take a polygraph test. i have said that how many times. officer snead, i was not there. i will take a polygraph test right now to prove to you that i was not there. >> when you have someone in the interrogation room who offers to take a polygraph, that's a strong sign of innocence that should not be disregarded. >> we know you were in the house. >> snead's partner ups the ante. >> i w nowhere near the house. >> they have evidence, he says. >> we know you were in the house. we have evidence to prove you were in the house. >> they don't, by the way, have any evidence of that. though it is legal for police to lie in an interrogation. >> there was a lot of people. >> just after 3:00 a.m., robert asked for his medicine. he had strep throat, remember? he's also asthmatic. >> i need to take my third dose of medication. >> i'll give you it once we get going. you work with me, i'll work with you. >> robert has been awake for nearly 20 hours. >> i want to call my mom. tell her that i love her.
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sorry for all the pain that i've ever put her through. and i had nothing to do with this. >> more than a dozen times he said he's tired and needs sleep. several times, he tries to sleep on the cold floor. >> at 5:17 a.m., for no explained reason. they attach shackles to robert's ankle, for no explained reason. more than four hours into the interrogation, randy tells robert he has more bad news. overwhelming evidence of robert's guilt. >> and not only was that false, there was no dna found in this case. i can't keep you from the worst if you don't talk to me. i can't keep you from the worst. >> i wasn't there. >> robert, you were. you we there. the evidenhows you were there. i can't lie about the evidce. >> not only was that false.
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there was no dna found in this case. >> but the officer then goes on to say, i can't lie to you about this, robert. when in fact he is lying about lying. >> officer snead tells robert he faces what snead calls the ultimate punishment. he also says, falsely, he's been talking to robert's mother on the phone. >> i told your mom that i would sit here and try to keep you from the most ultimate punishment which you can get. i am trying to do that. you're not even helping me to help you. i can't do no more. >> what was going on in there? >> there you see the police officer suggesting to robert that he's going to face death and you also see the officer very cleverly using robert's relationship with his mother. >> what can i say? >> and that's when robert's resolve begins to weaken. >> what can i say that i did to get me out of this? >> just before 7:00 a.m., five hours in, robert begins to bargain. >> if i was just on the porch?
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>> how many years will it be if you're just on the porch? robert -- >> when will i go home? >> huh? >> when will i go home today? will i go home now? >> i can't promise you. you work with me. i'm going to do everything i can to make sure your mom and we can maybe get you home. >> then, hoping it might get him home to his mother, robert offers a story he hopes will satisfy snead. >> then we went upstairs. i stood right there at the door. once i heard something, i got scared off and i ran. >> robert, sitting here to try to tell me the acts that took place is ridiculous. >> then snead lies to robert again. this time, about one of the murder weapons. >> there's an item that you touched, right? that left some particles on it that did some damage to somebody. what's that object? >> i think it was a bat. >> a bat? >> a baseball bat. >> all right.
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some type of -- >> clubbing device. >> clubbing device. >> snead knows the weapon was really a metal rod. >> then i hit her two times. because they said if it was -- if i didn't it would be -- >> wait a minute. now i got somebody else clubbing her, robert. i got someone else doing that act. >> robert has it wrong. >> jessica already confessed that rocky clubbed ann charles. >> you did another act. you know what that act is. and we know. that's the thing that has your -- something on it that's yours. >> what would that be? >> i'm not going to tell you. you're going to tell me. >> so, again, robert starts guessing. >> i didn't rape nobody. >> no, i'm knot saying that. >> i didn't kill the baby. >> no. i'm not saying that. i'm not saying that you raped anybody. >> i didn't cut nobody. >> i didn't say you cut. >> i didn't shoot anybody. >> i didn't say you shot nobody. >> robert, i'm going to come
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straight out and tell you what i'm getting. since you're not going to tell me. you stabbed that woman. >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> one or two times. >> then snead asks robert, where? >> whereabouts on her body? >> in the middle. >> and again, snead corrects him. >> you had a knife in your hand, all right, and prior to stabbing -- stabbing her in the -- in the back, all right, you cut her. >> it was essentially the police's conssion, not robert's. >> do you think by me telling you this is me going home? >> today i doubt it. >> then why am i lying about all this just so i can go home. >> you are not lying. >> i am lying. i am lying to you full front. to your face. i am lying to you. >> i am lying to you just so i can go home, which is exactly what juveniles who have falsely confessed say was their motivating factor for falsely confessing. >> but by 8:00 a.m., six hours after the interrogation began,
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randy snead has his confession. >> what you said tonight -- or this morning to me, is that a true and accurate statement? >> yes. >> okay. >> when rosenfield delivered a clemency petition to virginia governor bob mcdonnell, nirider added volumes of evidence in support. and then, as they waited for an answer -- >> out of nowhere, jessica sent a "dear mr. rosenfield" letter. she admitted to the throat cutting, the stab wounds to the back and absolutely adamant that robert had nothing to do with it whatsoever. >> so jessica's affidavit was sent off to the governor too. and everybody waited. and waited. and then, on the governor's very last day in office, more than nine years into robert's sentence, a decision. denied. rosenfield, devastated, drove to
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the prison to tell robert. >> robert and i hugged. we cried. and probably it is about the most painful part of this process. >> robert's only door to freedom slammed shut. but half a world away, someone else was watching robert's case. could his opinion make a difference? >> coming up -- >> the police detective in robert's corner. when "dateline" continues. because to a kid a grassy hill is irresistible. children's claritin. feel the clarity and live claritin clear. ♪ protect your pets from fleas and ticks with frontline plus for dogs and frontline plus for cats.
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this is the prison in mitchell, virginia, robert davis' home. this and places like it for something like 40% of his life. >> every moment of those years, dictated by one long night with officer randy snead at the miserable, exhausted end of caich robert said the words he ot take back. >> you stabbed that woman. >> i stabbed her. >> you had stabbed her, didn't you? >> one or two times. >> most people would say, i would never, ever, in a million years confess. >> or how could you be so stupid and not know, you know. >> uh-huh. >> i was young. i didn't know. i was naive. i was scared. >> robert is not alone, of course. there are people like him in situations just like his in jails and prisons around the country who confessed as teenagers to crimes they maybe
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didn't commit. to prevent that very thing, police departments in many other countries banned or dispensed years ago with interrogation techniques still used in america. had the murder happened elsewhere, for example, here in the united kingdom, it's probable that robert would still have been brought in for questioning, he was named as a suspect by others in the case. but the chances he would have been charged or even interviewed for very long, close to zero. >> the interview as it is on the recording would not be legal in the uk. and that evidence would not have been admitted at trial. >> this is andy griffiths. 26 years a detective in the sussex police department. internationally recognized for his work in investigative interview techniques. when he was a rookie, british interrogation rules were much like they are in the u.s., but they are not anymore. >> what happened to precipitate these changes inhe united kingdom?
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>> changes really came about through problems. >> like a national scandal after a series of high-profile false confessions, including an arson/murder case eerily similar to robert davis'. >> the government of the day instigated a review of the way that prisoners were dealt with in custody. >> the result? a complete overhaul of the system. every officer in the uk retrained to rigorous standards that apply in every region of the country. strict rules were put in place for suspect interviews. all interviews in serious cases video-recorded. >> there are two cameras up there. one gives a head and shoulders shot of the interviewee, and the idea behind that is that, if this interview was shown in court, it gives a clear picture of you. the other is a global view of the room. everyone who is in the room is shown in the picture. that's about showing exactly what happened. >> and, this was key.
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no more lying! in america it's legal for cops to lie to suspects. not here. >> could you, for example, go into this interview and say, i have a certain specific piece of evidence that tells me you are guilty, if you don't have that evidence? >> no. absolutely not. >> can you talk to a suspect for as long as you want to? >> no. you should only interview for two hours at a time and should take recognized breaks at mealtimes. prayer times and nighttime. >> someone a little challenged, like robert. >>hey're entitled undee law to what's called an appropriate adult. it might be a parent. might be a social worker, but they are entitled to that as well as their legal representative. >> but when the interrogation rules were changed, many veteran officers were not happy. they resisted. detective trevor bowles remember it well. >> senior people thought this was a draconian piece of legislation that would prevent us from ever detecting anything ever again. >> you'd never solve a crime anymore.
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>> we'd never solve a crime anymore. it was going to tie our hands behind our back, and we would be unable to work with it. and they were wrong. >> very wrong. not only did false confessions all but stop, crime-solving got better. >> detection rates in respective homicide in the uk are very high. they're up in the 90% mark. >> and along the way, said griffiths, confessions, a hallmark of case-solving in the u.s., became much less important here in britain. >> we would not prosecute somebody solely on a confession. so if someone did make a confession, we would try to corroborate what they've said so you would have the supporting evidence as well. >> but isn't the confession the strongest evidence you can get? >> not always. >> what's wrong with it? >> what confessions tend to do is shape this confirmation bias. people then look for supporting evidence just to support what's been said just because the confession exists. we asd griffiths to watch
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with us robert davis' interrogation. and -- >> what this guy's problem was, he was arrested last. what they're saying is that we gospel believe the people who were arrested first, so you just need to confirm what we know. that's clearly not a good approach for an investigator. >> you object vowsly think i'm lying but i'm not. i did not do nothing. >> the time of day of the interview, the length of the interview, the use of leg irons halfway through the interview, the clear requests for medication and sleep at various points of the interview, were all red flags. >> when you looked at the whole thing as you did, you sat back and you thought afterwards. >> the life blood of any account is reliability. and the way this is done is you can't vouch for the reliability. >> we had asked for his opinion, and he gave it to us. robert's confession wasn't believable. what we didn't expect was what happened a few months later.
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when this british detective spoke to steve rosenfield, and offered to write virginia's governor. adding his support to robert davis' clemency petition, a petition now waiting on the desk of a new governor. >> coming up. >> i believe that the confession is an unreliable confession. >> strong words from the chief of police, and from a governor's office. the wait begins. when "dateline" continues. ♪ happiness is powerful flea and tick protection from nexgard. nexgard kills fleas and ticks all month long. and it comes in an easy-to-give tasty chew. and that makes dogs and owners happy. no wonder vets love it too. reported side effects include vomiting, itching, diarrhea, lethargy and lack of appetite. see your vet for more information on flea and tick protection you and your dog will love. nexgard. the vet's #1 choice.
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welcome back. convicted on a false confession, advocates were adamant that's what happened to robert davis. then, newfound hope, a new governor was taking office. would he consider the case? or was the young man so many believed innocent destined to spend another decade in jail? here's keith morrison with the conclusion of "the interrogation." >> i've never been emotional in a presentation as i feel in this case, because i've grown very close with robert. >> for years, steve rosenfield made his case for robert davis to legal conferences, to anybody who would listen. robert remained right where he was, in prison.
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during those same years we tried repeatedly to contact and interview randy snead, the officer who took robert's confession. the closest we got was the current chief of police of albemarle county, colonel steve sellers. he wasn't in office when steve was a decktective, but you've talked to him. what's your sense of how he feels about it? >> i think he acted in the best interests. i think there wasn't a bit of malice in his actions. i think he had a very strong relationship with robert davis. >> but this was interesting. chief sellers did not support snead's interrogation. not at all. >> i will say this. i believe that the confession is an unreliable confession. >> what's more, the chief updated police methods when he took over to help prevent the kind of interrogation that ended up in robert's confession. >> i can't tell your mom that i can save you from the ultimate. >> as you look at it, what are things that would not be done? >> using terms like "the ultimate punishment."
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length of the interview. those kinds of things would be clearly not done today. >> cold comfort for robert davis, who by 2014, had been in prison going on 11 years. a decade-plus to go. unless -- there was a new governor, terry mcauliffe in office now. so rosenfield renewed his appeal for clemency. though he was well aware that a tiny percentage of such petitions are ever granted. and as month after month went by, it wasn't clear what, if anything, was happening. >> what's disturbing about the clemency process is that it's secretive. >> what rosenfield didn't know ishathis time it was different. the governor in fact ordered a new investigation. just before christmas 2015, we were there when the call came from the governor's office. >> carlos, it's steve. >> there it was.
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finally, the words he had been hoping to hear year after year after year. robert davis was about to be set free. >> i'm elated. just in time for the holidays. today is robert's mother's birthday. come on, sandy, pick up. sandy, it's steve. set another plate for tonight's dinner. i'm going up to pick robert up. >> oh, my god! >> i think this will be the last time i ever see this prison. >> at last, the final drive to robert's prison, with the news that both had dreamed of for all those years. >> hey, robert! >> hello, hello. >> how are you feeling? >> i'm elated. words can't describe it. words cannot describe it. i'm just so happy. if it wasn't for that man fighting for me right there, i wouldn't be out right now. and this is just overwhelming
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right now. i'm outside of these fences, man! hello? i'm just getting ready to pull out. yeah. it's unreal, mom. as long as this ain't a dream, i'm leaving right now. >> and that very night, robert was together again with his mother and his brother and freedom. >> robert! it's you! it's you! this is my boy. he's home. >> how does it feel out here? >> it feels great, man. >> a few weeks later we came to see robert here in his new apartment in charlottesville, virginia, his very own apartment. in which he tells us there is no
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room for bitterness. there's too much to do. >> so, here we are. >> yep. this is my humble home. >> not bad. >> yeah. yeah. >> how does it feel? >> it feels great, man. i haven't stopped smiling since i came home. >> i can tell. what are you planning to do with your life now? >> get a job and thrive. i've got this opportunity, and i don't want to squander it, you know. >> that's a nice-looking club. >> he's got a job. working in a neighborhood deli. and he lives under the protective eye of the man who never stopped trying to prove his innocence. and who hasn't stopped yet. robert's pardon was conditional, meaning he has a parole officer and an ankle bracelet and still a record. >> this governor expressed to me that the door was open for a reconsideration toward an absolute pardon, which would erase and expunge his
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conviction. >> and he was granted a pardon. a few months later, his mother sandy died in a car crash. she said her greatest joy was seeing her son exonerated. we believe there are untold others now languishing in prisons to something they didn't do. >> now we see, eyes are beginning to open. questions are beginning to be asked around the country. and that is what happened in robert davis' case. >> one night of your life made a hell of a difference, didn't it? >> yeah. yeah. >> you know, it's a small town. do you ever run into randy snead? >> he lives here. but i haven't run into him. if i was to see him walking down the street, i would probably just keep walking, because i don't really have nothing to say to him. except for i told you so.
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i told you that i was innocent. >> so he was. so he is. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. good morning. i'm dara brown in new york at msnbc world headquarters. it is 7:00 in the east, 4:00 out west. iced out. could michael cohen threaten his presidency? >> mr. trump treated him pretty awfully during the time he worked for him. >> if there's no crime, there's no problem to flip on. the problem with michael cohen, there seems to be evidence of a crime already. >> trump's lawyer dedicated his career to him and now may become the president's undoing. playing nice, a new report says the deputy ag assured


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