A man who spent 22 years in prison after being bullied into confessing for a gruesome crime he did not commit has now been released from prison and presented with a long-awaited opportunity for redemption.
In 1985, a 7-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy who had been in Byron Halsey’s care were found to have been tortured and murdered in the basement of a Plainfield, N.J. boardinghouse. Halsey, then 24, was a factory worker who had only a 6th grade education; the children were his girlfriend’s, with whom he lived.
Halsey was isolated in a police interview room in Plainfield and accused of the murders. Officers told him he had failed a polygraph examination, which he had actually passed; the young man was also presented with false incriminating evidence.
Although he initially maintained his innocence, the interrogation stretched out over several days until Halsey, who was described as being “in a state of great fear,” signed a document in which he confessed to the crimes.
Included in his “confession,” however, were details that Halsey could not have known, and which must have been inserted by the investigators.
Halsey was charged, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for two life terms in 1988. Much of his time in prison was spent in solitary confinement. According to the Innocence Project, he began requesting post-conviction DNA testing in 1993; the testing was secured in 2006.
The tests proved his innocence and implicated a man named Clifton Hall, who was known to the police, had a record of sexual assaults, and lived in an apartment next to the one in which Halsey, the children, and their mother lived in, as the murderer.
Now, a federal appeals court has ruled that Halsey has every right to sue the cops who coerced him into confessing to the murders.
As Philadelphia-based Third Circuit Judge Morton Ira Greenberg wrote, “Except when an innocent defendant is executed, we hardly can conceive of a worse miscarriage of justice.”
Greenberg’s decision has overturned a lower court’s decision that had granted the police officers qualified immunity from Halsey’s lawsuit.
The officers involved in the case worked for the city of Plainfield, which is also listed as a defendant in Halsey’s lawsuit. A trial will likely be held to determine whether the two cops must pay Halsey damages for allegedly violating his Constitutional rights.
Hall died in jail in 2009 before he could be tried.