Was he telling the truth when he said he was lying, or was he lying when he said he was telling the truth? And how can anyone tell which he is doing at any given time?
September 1, 2002
Editor, The Post-Crescent:
The Maloney murder and arson case is back. The conviction seemed to hinge on Maloney’s confession, surreptitiously taped. I recall hearing this confession played several times on the evening news. My impression of this confession was that it was a sarcastic response to a foolish question or a nagging repetition of the same question past the point of annoyance. Obviously, it was a matter of reaction rather than decision.
Perceptions of confession are interesting. No matter how obtained, a confession is generally believed valid. A person can be perceived as being the world’s greatest liar, but a confession suddenly makes the person honest for that one instant in time. The fact that snitch law, where jail mates relate an alleged confession of an accused, is so readily accepted demonstrates how entrenched this belief is. Confessions obtained by torture, coercion, deception, or fraud have all been accepted and used to convict.
Hopefully, juries would be observant enough to place each confession in the proper context. But, jury members do carry community beliefs into their deliberations. In the trials of the Scottsboro Nine, community beliefs allowed juries to deliver death sentences based on mere allegation and with very little deliberation.
The prosecutor in the Maloney case, Winnebago Dist. Atty. Joseph Paulus, stated that the confession “... means he did it.” Yet his own confession, also surreptitiously taped, of sexual impropriety on county time and property is not valid. According to Paulus, it was mere braggadocio and therefore not valid.
It is interesting how Paulus’ perception changes depending on who is making the confession. How is it that other confessions are solid while his is not?