In the summer of 1981, Lowery, a soldier at Fort Riley, was involved in a traffic accident in Ogden, Kan., on the same night a 74-year-old Ogden woman was raped.
Police suspected a connection and took Lowery into custody, where he was questioned for hours, given a lie detector test and finally, in tears, confessed. He was convicted by a jury in 1982 and was sentenced to 11 years to life in prison.
Now, 21 years later, he has been completely exonerated through DNA testing that was unavailable at the time of his trial.
"The biological evidence was discovered by a clerk of the court, Barry Clark, Lowery's attorney, said.
Clark, with the help of an attorney in New York City, sent the rape kit to a California lab, which proved Lowery's innocence. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation confirmed the results.
"One of the compelling aspects of this story is the clerks of the district court don't usually keep that stuff," Clark said. "That kind of evidence is held in the evidence room at the police department until it is authorized to be destroyed. The last entry in the court file directed police to keep that evidence."
Lowery served 10 years in the Lansing State Penitentiary.
"Here's a 22-year-old kid, never been in trouble in his life, in the walls of Lansing prison with the worst of the worst," Clark said.
After being released on parole, Lowery had to register as a sex offender. He now works for Ford Motor Company in Kansas City, Mo., and lives with his wife and children.
There have now been 128 DNA exonerations across the country since the technology has been developed. Kansas started using the testing in 1986, Clark said.
"False confessions happen a lot more frequently than we think," he said. "In this case, we believe Mr. Lowery's false confession was entirely attributable to police coercion. The detectives who entered his confession claimed Mr. Lowery knew details that only the perpetrator would know. They claimed Mr. Lowery volunteered that information.
"In fact, the police told him the details of the crime. That's insidious," Clark said.
In order to prevent false confessions, Clark said all interrogation sessions should be videotaped.
"The very best thing we can do to prevent false confessions and prevent police coercion is to videotape police interviews. If the police want to interview a suspect, turn on a videotape, and then we will know if it is coerced."
The Riley County Police Department does not require taped interrogations, but they are often recorded.
"When a detective brings a person in, the vast majority of the time, we tape the person," Lt. Jay Mills said. "It's up to the detective. Most of them, by habit, will videotape. If an officer is out in the field, he doesn't have that luxury."
The RCPD does not condone coercion, Mills said, but it can use aggressive interrogation techniques.
"A lot of people don't think a police officer can lie to them," he said. "We can lie to get a confession. We can throw down a set of fingerprints and say they are yours. You can use trickery, you just can't coerce."
Mills said that although they use certain tactics, detectives respect the person in custody no matter what they suspect them of doing.
"We can't deny them use of a bathroom. If they are thirsty, we give them a drink," he said. "I am not saying we don't get loud and accuse people. Our job is to make sure the story they are telling is correct. We don't use violence or the threat of violence, and we don't make promises we can't keep."
When people are in custody, they are given their Miranda rights, but if they continue talking after requesting a lawyer, it is admissible in court, Mills said.
But for Lowery, reforms to the interrogation process are of no assistance. Clark said he and Lowery are discussing a civil claim to receive compensation for his years in jail and high expenses for DNA testing.
"We can't give the years of his life back," Clark said.
||Truth in Justice