A New Book Worth Reading
Anything You Say
The True Story Of One Man's Ordeal With A Derailed Murder Investigation
by Christopher DiStefano
Review by Steve Drizin, Director
Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern University School of Law
Lo Pleas and False Confessions Revisited: The Case of Christopher
Christopher DiStefano was convicted of the April 1996 murder of his high school girlfriend, Christine Burgerhoff in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania (which includes Scranton). The only evidence against Chris was a confession written by detectives and signed by Chris after an 11 hour interrogation filled with promises of leniency and direct and implied threats of harm. Although Chris' confession matched some of the details of the crime, most of the information he provided was widely available in the local press coverage of the case. Not a shred of physical evidence linked Chris to the crime and when Chris tried to answer specific questions about missing evidence (like the location of the victim's clothes) he made mistakes.
DiStefano languished in jail until February 2000 when he was convicted of third degree murder after a bench trial and was sentenced to 15 to 40 years. He spent more than a year in state prison when the Pa. Superior Court reversed his conviction and held that the police had coerced his confession. Without the confession, the State had no case against DiStefano. That didn't stop local prosecutors from appealing his case to the Supreme Court and threatening to retry him. When the State Supreme Court rejected the State's appeal, prosecutors offered DiStefano a plea to a misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter charge. (This must be one of the few cases in history that started out as a capital case to end with a misdemeanor plea!). The charges carried a sentence of two to five years and since DiStefano had already served six, he would be immediately released if he accepted the deal. He agreed to enter a no lo plea and was released in September of 2001.
DiStefano's story is told in his newly-released book Anything You Say: The True Story of One Man's Ordeal With A Derailed Murder Investigation. DiStefano, who wrote and published the book himself, sent me a copy of the book. Not expecting it to be a good read, I picked it up and started reading it. For the better part of three days, the book gripped me. DiStefano is highly intelligent (he has a college and graduate degree in physics) and his book is well-organized and well-written. For the most part his anger is righteous and he focuses it with laser-like intensity on the prison system, the jail system, and the flaws of the adversary system (police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges all take a beating) as it tries to, but often fails to find the truth. His account of his interrogation is chilling and is one of the most detailed first person accounts of a coerced compliant false confession I have ever read. When he speaks at the end of his book about the need to electronically record police interrogations, he speaks as a victim and with authority on the subject that few others can demand.
Of course, there are two sides to every story and the police and prosecutors and the victim's family insist to this day that DiStefano is guilty. But the way in which DiStefano's shreds the state's case and demonstrates how the police failed to investigate some other promising suspects, might just persuade some naysayers to rethink their beliefs in DiStefano's guilt. While I am not absolutely convinced of his innocence, (it would be foolish for me to say he is innocent without at least hearing from the other side), my analysis of hundreds of proven false confession causes me to be highly suspicious of DiStefano's confession and convinces me that the State could never prove DiStefano guilty of Ms. Burgerhoff's murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
At the very least, here's hoping that DiStefano's book prompts some investigative journalist to take a new look at this case. To order the book, go to http://www.anythingyousay.net/. It's not quite a classic but it's a worthy addition to any collection of books about miscarriages of justice.
||Truth in Justice