Netflix launched its latest true crime docu-series over the weekend and it’s the most enlightening and terrifying look at corrupt police work since Making A Murder. Directed by US filmmaker Kelly Loudenberg, The Confession Tapes focuses on six separate homicide cases where the prosecution got a conviction almost solely based on taped confessions that the suspects claim were coerced.
The seven-part series is made up of a mix between archival footage and interviews with suspects, their families and the detectives who worked on the case. It sheds light on the ways in which brutal police interrogations can shape the way a suspect thinks and ultimately, manipulate them into admitting to something they may not have done.
When I read the synopsis before watching the series, I’ll admit that I thought the whole idea seemed a little far-fetched. Why would anyone innocent confess to a crime if they didn’t commit it? It didn’t make sense. However, a couple of episodes in and I realised just how impactful hours of manipulation, intimidation and outright deception can be on someone – especially when they’re already in a vulnerable state.
The expert interrogators depict themselves as the suspects only hope of a lighter sentence and even make up scenarios in which they could have committed the crime subconsciously. As the series goes on, it becomes very evident that they’re willing to say anything to get a confession and the idea of innocent until proven guilty simply doesn’t exist.
In one case titled ‘Trial by Fire’, a man who is accused of setting his girlfriend on fire is led to believe that his DNA was found at the crime scene when in actual fact, it wasn’t a confirmed match. The police ask him leading questions like “could you have maybe done it in a dream?” and tell him that “it’s normal” for men to “snap”. The interrogation officer even takes advantage of his drinking habits suggesting that he may have done it during a ‘blackout’ – something the suspect admits to have experienced regularly after excessive drinking.
While all the cases in the series are different – they include everything from parents killing their children and vice versa to acts of passion and premeditated murder – they do have one similarity. Just like Making A Murder’s Brendan Dassey, the suspects go from being completely confident in their own innocence to being utterly broken by police questioning and eventually confessing to the crime they’re accused of.
More than anything, The Confession Tapes highlights the fact that something like this could happen to anyone. Episode after episode we’re shown that the system hasn’t targeted a particular race, class or gender – something that is often seen in true crime stories. Instead, they decide, early on, who their main suspects are and focus on pinning the crime on them no matter what.
Whether they’re actually guilty or not doesn’t seem to be important and that’s what makes it so chilling. The idea of doing time for a crime you didn’t commit is everyone’s worst nightmare, and watching how it is done to ordinary people will leave a knot in your stomach.
Perhaps the most shocking issue highlighted in this docu-series is the culture of cutting corners within the US justice system. These police offices pick on people who are easy targets simply because they want the case closed rather than doing their jobs competently and with integrity.
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