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Volume 70, Issue 5, Friday, August 27, 2004


Some officers are 'Bad Boys' indeed

Paige Nieto
Opinion columnist

In Lufkin, a man who had been wrongly incarcerated for 40 years was finally freed Aug. 17. In 1962, Robert Carrol Coney was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly robbing a Safeway grocery store. Sentencing a man to life in prison is no trivial thing, and sentencing an innocent man to life in prison is even worse. How could our justice system have failed us so thoroughly? Surely, there must be hundreds, even thousands of ways or chances that our system could have caught this and kept an innocent man free. Just how many things would have to go wrong for this man that he would be unable to prove his innocence?

Apparently, only one -- Coney confessed to the crime. Aside from the tragedy of wrongfully jailing a man for 40 years, the truly horrifying aspect of this case is the extremes the police went to in order to get Coney's confession of a crime he didn't commit.

Coney says that to get him to confess to the crime, the deputies committed both physical and mental abuse, crushing his fingers between the jail cell bars as well as threatening his life; all of this for a confession, and from the wrong man at that. How many more instances like Coney's have happened, and how many times have people failed to step forward to tell the police that it and they were wrong?

Police brutality has been going on for quite some time in our country, and we, in large part, have always turned a blind eye toward it. The fact that these deputies (under the tutelage of their sheriff at the time, which makes this crime seem all the more heinous) left out the "good cop" from the cliché routine is deplorable. For confessions of what other crimes do police feel coercive and abusive force is acceptable? Does it matter if they are worse than robbing a Safeway?

Ignoring for a moment the fact that he was innocent, even if he had been guilty Coney did not deserve that treatment. There is never a reason to crush a suspect's fingers to extract a confession. Worse, upon inspection and research, State District Judge David Wilson discovered more cases where the sheriff and his deputies had crushed the fingers of suspects in the jail cell bars. When Wilson asked Coney about this, he "held up two twisted and bent fingers" and said he remembered that sheriff.

People in power need to stop abusing their power or else the public will cry for it to be taken away. The fact that an innocent man was jailed for 40 years is sadly nothing new to our country, especially here in Houston, where many people have been found to be innocent years after so-called "solid proof" put them in jail.

Coney said he has no bitterness over the treatment he suffered or the 40 years he spent locked in incarceration away from his wife and other family members. He feels it would be pointless to get angry and bitter, because allowing those emotions to consume him would waste the rest of the life he has been given back. Coney is a better man than some, and certainly better than the police who abused their power to put him in prison with a forced, false confession. 

Maybe if we started taking the same extreme measures with cops found guilty of abusing their power out on the officers themselves, they wouldn't be so quick to break an alleged robber's fingers in the door of a jail cell to force a confession.

Nieto, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at

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