Pittsburg Post-Gazette

False Confessions: Troy Joseph / He says he's a victim of 'police trickery'
Friday, September 01, 2006

By Bill Moushey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was no secret that Troy Joseph didn't get along with his sister's boyfriend, Richard Pearson. One night, the two had an argument they were taking outside when, according to Mr. Joseph, a robber interceded and shot Mr. Pearson.

Police eventually got the 18-year-old Mr. Joseph to sign what amounted to a murder confession, and he was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Nine years later Mr. Joseph has found an eyewitness willing to testify that he not only watched another man shoot Mr. Pearson and flee, but that he reported this to police shortly after the murder.
 
Mr. Joseph believes he deserves a new trial because no gun was ever found and the only witness to the murder supports his version of events.

"No matter how long it takes, I swear to prove my innocence. Because of a lack of suspects and a lack of evidence, I became a victim of police trickery, a victim of the justice system and a victim of society, " he said before he was sent away for life.

Unrecorded interrogation
On the rainy spring night of May 24, 1997, Mr. Pearson was visiting his child at the home of Mr. Joseph's sister. Mr. Joseph, just back from a year in a juvenile facility for drug dealing, arrived on his bicycle to retrieve a raincoat from his sister's second-floor apartment.

Mr. Joseph never liked the way Mr. Pearson treated his sister, and they also disagreed over payment for a drug deal.

Eventually, Mr. Joseph said, he followed Mr. Pearson outside to resolve their differences. As they reached the first floor, Mr. Joseph said, a man emerged from behind a stairwell wearing a ski mask. He brandished a gun and demanded their money.

Mr. Joseph said he sprinted out the front door to nearby Larimer Avenue and heard gunshots.
When police arrived, they found Mr. Pearson's body just outside the door. He'd been shot seven times. They learned about the argument and secured a warrant for Mr. Joseph's arrest two days later.

Mr. Joseph turned himself in and denied wrongdoing. But three hours into a six-hour interrogation, he said, police told him an eyewitness had provided enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder, which would carry a sentence of life in prison or possibly death. (No eyewitness was ever presented.)

That's when police suggested he claim self defense and plead to less serious crimes that could reduce his prison time to as little as five years, he said.

None of the conversations were recorded.

Mr. Joseph said former Pittsburgh Police Detective Richard McDonald -- the only person with him during the interrogation -- asked him to sign his name on some notes to verify when they were taken. Mr. Joseph claims that signature would later be used in court to suggest he had signed a confession.

After the interrogation, Mr. Joseph thought he was going home, but he was charged with first-degree murder. Mr. Joseph claims police made up his confession, which they steadfastly have denied.

Former Detective McDonald, who now works for the state attorney general's office, would not comment for this story.

In pre-trial proceedings, Mr. Joseph repeatedly renounced his alleged confession and his lawyer tried to have it suppressed as evidence, to no avail. Even though the confession was the only evidence presented, a jury took only four hours to convict him and send him away for life.

Hidden evidence?
As his appeals meandered through the system, Mr. Joseph encountered inmate Jacques Maynor in prison. Mr. Maynor said he was across the street when Mr. Pearson was murdered and shortly thereafter had described to police a scenario identical to Mr. Joseph's initial statement.

Mr. Maynor eventually signed a sworn affidavit and repeated in an interview with Innocence Institute volunteer John Feeney, a retired Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge, that he had told police he saw Mr. Joseph run from his sister's apartment, then watched as a masked man gunned down Mr. Pearson.

No such report was provided to Mr. Joseph or his lawyer, even though prosecutors are required to turn over to the defense all exculpatory evidence before trial.

In September 2004, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Donna Jo McDaniel, who had presided at Mr. Joseph's trial, denied an appeal based on the failure of police or prosecutors to produce this evidence. She said the issue had been litigated, even though Mr. Joseph had met Mr. Maynor only a short time before the appeal was filed.

Later, in response to another appeal, Judge McDaniel suggested that she had denied Mr. Joseph's first appeal because it had been filed late.

Fighting alone
When he met retired Judge Feeney, Mr. Joseph had no lawyer. He was filing his own handwritten motions in an attempt to acquire a copy of Mr. Maynor's original police report, hoping to win a new trial based on the new evidence.

Judge Feeney, surprised that Mr. Joseph had been able to sustain the case by himself, sought a lawyer to represent him. When that failed, Judge Feeney reactivated his law license and agreed to represent Mr. Joseph with the help of another local attorney.

Judge Feeney recently filed a motion in Pennsylvania Superior Court that shows previous appeals were filed on time and that asks for hearings to examine Mr. Maynor's statements and other evidence not brought before the jury.

Action on the motion is pending.

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