Dayton Daily News

Sunday, July 4, 2004


2 women's stories of their brush with the law

Rob Modic

"I was satisfied with her verbal and then her written statements," Ferguson testified. "If somebody has not committed a crime, I don't personally believe they are going to confess to a crime that they did not commit even under a stressful situation."
FBI Agent Timothy Ferguson

DAYTON - On the morning of May 26, Teresita Casey answered her front door and met a half-dozen federal agents demanding to see her 24-year-old daughter, Latosha Haliburton.

'I said, 'Why don't you come in?' ' Casey said. 'They said, 'No, have her come outside.' '

Sleepily, Haliburton came out of her room in pajamas, carrying her 1-year-old son. Agents ordered her to put the boy down and step outside.

As neighbors gathered, the armed men in dark jackets with "FBI" on the backs ordered the 98-pound mother to lean, hands outstretched, against the front porch wall. They patted her for weapons, handcuffed her and whisked her off in her sleepwear as her 5-year-old daughter, Arielle, looked on.

After 3 1/2 weeks in jail, Haliburton was released June 18 and a federal judge granted a government motion to dismiss the charges. Further investigation disclosed that she and another woman held since Christmas Eve are not the two women sought in a Dec. 22 bank robbery in Kettering, federal officials said.

It is the first time in at least 17 years, say federal prosecutors in Dayton, that they discovered they arrested the wrong people, including one who falsely confessed she committed the offense.

"The system worked," said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Ohio.

For Afton Cain, it took a little longer for the system to work.

FBI agents and Kettering police arrested Cain, 18, on Christmas Eve at the same apartment complex on Euclid Avenue where Haliburton lived. Haliburton said she did not know Cain, who lived a floor higher.

The case raises questions about FBI interrogation techniques that would be remedied by mandatory recording, defense lawyers say.

In late February or early March, agents first questioned Haliburton about the robbery.

When she answered their knock, "they just grabbed me by the arm and told me they had to talk to me about a bank robbery," she said in a recent interview.

Haliburton said she was taken to the Federal Building at Second and Wilkinson streets in downtown Dayton. There, agents accused her of robbing the Provident Bank branch in Kettering.

"I don't even know where Kettering is," Haliburton said.

"When I first got there, they told me they had a picture," Haliburton recalled. 'I said, 'Let me see it.' '

After a couple of hours of questioning, she said, Special Agent Timothy Ferguson showed her a surveillance camera photo of a woman in the bank robbery.

'I said, 'That picture is not me!' ' she said. 'They kept telling me, 'That is you! That is you!' I said, 'She looks taller than me. And she looks thicker than me.' He said, 'You could have lost weight.'

"Her face, her nose - everything," Haliburton said as she protested the photograph could not be of her.

"I was so nervous," she said. "I signed whatever. They asked if I wanted a lawyer. I said no, 'cause I knew it wasn't me. I didn't think it would amount to anything."

Haliburton let agents search her apartment. Her mother was there; she had been talking to her daughter by cellphone when the agents came. She rushed over, arriving shortly after they took her daughter downtown.

"I went to the apartment and was getting the kids dressed." Casey said.

As agents searched, Casey recalled, a Dayton police officer, whose name she could not recall, said he wished he had a copy of the bank photo because photos of Haliburton in the apartment didn't look like the perpetrator.

The agents were still questioning Haliburton, who said they eventually let her call her mother.

Haliburton said she was crying on the phone as her mother tried to comfort her.

'She (Casey) just said, 'You know you didn't do it,' ' Haliburton said.

As the hours passed, Haliburton said, agents asked Haliburton to pose for pictures, standing with her hand out like the woman in the photo.

After eight hours at the Federal Building, Haliburton said she was dropped off at her mother's home on Burleigh Avenue. She accepted an offer to take a lie detector test later.

The man who administered the lie detector test "asked me the same questions over and over and over again," Haliburton said.

After the test, Casey said, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Knief said, "If my supervisor was here, we could arrest her right now."

Knief recalled saying the agents thought they had enough to arrest her and he would have to take the case to his supervisor for approval before it went to a grand jury.

After that, they heard nothing, Casey and Haliburton said.

Haliburton's lawyer, Derek Farmer of Columbus, said he understood the test showed she had been truthful in saying she had not been in the bank.

Knief said he didn't hear anyone say Haliburton had passed the lie detector test.

A false confession

Meanwhile, Afton Cain, jailed since Christmas Eve, told Judge Thomas M. Rose on March 22 that she gave a false confession to Agent Ferguson and Kettering police Detective Greg Kisaberth.

Kisaberth said Cain's mother, Deborah Moore, had contacted him the morning of Dec. 24, saying a televised photo of two female bank robbers may have shown her daughter. Moore and her 24-year-old son both identified a bank surveillance photo as Cain, Kisaberth said.

About 10 FBI agents and Kettering police, all with handguns out and at least one holding a rifle, arrested Cain as she was getting into her boyfriend's truck. Police recovered a 9 mm handgun from the truck, but could not determine whose it was. Afton later told them she didn't know how to use a gun.

Ferguson, an agent for 15 months at the time of the arrest, and Kisaberth, nine years on the Kettering force and four with Springfield police, testified they questioned Cain for about 40 minutes late on Dec. 24, but she denied the woman in the picture was her.

They stepped outside the interview room, developed a new strategy, and within 10 minutes, they said, Cain had confessed and admitted the bank photo showed her.

Kisaberth first said they had found Cain's fingerprints in the bank. Kisaberth kept telling her to do what her 3-year-old nephew would want her to do, Cain testified before Rose. Then she dissolved, the lawmen said.

"Detective Kisaberth asked her once again if that was her in the photographs," Ferguson testified. "She had her head down and slowly she began to nod. And she was asked again and she said it was her in the photograph."

After more questions, "I asked her to write out a statement."

Cain, 18 and still finishing high school, wrote that a girl from the DeSoto Bass housing project: "Told me to hold the gun. So, I did. She briefly explained that I was to go in with her and whatever she do, I was to do the same thing. I followed her in there and was walking with the gun around really because I didn't know what to do.

"When it was over we ran to get in the car and went back to where we was at first. She told me she would stop by the house later on that night when it cooled down. I haven't heard from her yet though."

Thomas Anderson, Cain's assistant federal public defender, noted that her statement never mentioned a bank or Kettering.

"I was satisfied with her verbal and then her written statements," Ferguson testified. "If somebody has not committed a crime, I don't personally believe they are going to confess to a crime that they did not commit even under a stressful situation."

Cain was held without bail until her release June 18.

Knief said he's never had a case with a false confession in his three years in Dayton or two years in Washington, D.C., or as a county prosecutor in Seattle for 10 years.

"I would do it all again," Knief said in a recent interview. "We didn't go out looking for her."

Knief said in March that legal rulings support police use of a ruse to prompt confessions.

The case unravels

After agents arrested Haliburton, "they told me three people identified me at the bank," Haliburton said. "I was just going off. I was still in my pajamas." She said she uttered "cuss words."

By the time Haliburton, on probation for a low-level felony forgery, was brought before a federal magistrate, "I was just crying and everything."

After her initial appearance, Haliburton met briefly at jail with a federal public defender; later another attorney assigned to her case removed himself for scheduling reasons.

Casey contacted Farmer, who spoke with Haliburton and contacted the court the next day. Casey, meanwhile, was contacting friends and people in her church, the NAACP and others, asking them to write letters in an attempt to have bail set. She also arranged with family and neighborhood children to start a car wash and barbecue to raise money for Farmer's fees.

Casey's phone bills also began to mount. Daily collect calls from jail totaled about $300 by her daughter's release, Casey said.

New information arrived at the U.S. Attorney's office June 17. Farmer said he told attorneys at a pre-trial conference that people had been calling him and federal officials to say his client was not the woman in the photos.

Knief said the information came in about 4:30 p.m. and he started calling attorneys for Haliburton and Cain.

Anderson, Cain's attorney, was at the National Criminal Defenders College in Macon, Ga.

"I got the call while I was in the middle of a lecture on false confessions," Anderson said. Farmer, called at home, arranged to pick up Haliburton at jail the next morning.

Anderson said the best way to prevent catastrophes such as false confessions is to record police interviews. He said in cases he has handled, FBI agents routinely do not record interviews.

A spokesman for the FBI did not return phone calls Friday. Cain's mother, Deborah Moore, said she could not be interviewed with her daughter last week.

On the day Cain and Haliburton were freed, Casey said she was washing cars with relatives and about a dozen children when Farmer pulled up and her daughter got out.

Arielle ran up to her.

"She gave me a hug," Haliburton said. "I was crying, kissing, like I had been gone for years."

Since her release, Haliburton said, "All I do is sleep now. I don't have no appetite. My family's been real supportive. All my neighbors. I'm just real grateful for everything."

Last Sunday, Haliburton, the oldest of four children, was baptized at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, 3300 W. Third St.

'After all this, I said, 'There is a God,' ' she said with a smile.

And as for the real female bank robbers, "there is no need for the public or the banks to be concerned about those individuals," Knief said. He refused to say more.

Contact Rob Modic at 225-2282.

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