New York’s highest court grilled prosecutors and defense lawyers Tuesday in trying to determine when police go too far in lying to suspects.
A Troy man whose infant son died with a head injury and infection in 2008 was told by police that doctors needed to know what happened to save the victim, who was already dead. Adrian Thomas, 31, was later convicted of murder. He’s in prison, sentenced to 25 years to life.
“How is this deception different from other deceptive practices police are able to use?” Judge Jenny Rivera asked.
Attorney Jerome Frost said police threatened to blame Thomas’s wife if he didn’t confess. Frost said Thomas’ incriminating statements about throwing the boy down in his crib were coerced, and a midlevel court should have thrown out his conviction. The defense medical experts concluded the child died from the infection, not any head injury, he said.
“A confession must be the product of a suspect’s free will. … One hour in, police threatened four times to arrest his wife and prosecute her if he did not implicate himself,” Frost said. Asked about establishing a bright line rule for police conduct, he said: “The rule is you don’t threaten a person’s vital interests.”
Rensselaer County Assistant DA Kelly Egan said deception by police is permissible as long as it doesn’t overcome a suspect’s free will. Egan said that didn’t happen with Thomas.