It Took 10 Years To Get A Man Out Of Prison After His Twin Brother Confessed
Kevin Dugar, 44, was released from prison this week after serving 20 years for a crime he didn't commit, nearly 10 years after his twin brother confessed to having actually committed it.
The crime in question occurred in 2003 and has been described as a "gang-related* shooting," on Chicago's North Side, resulting in the death of another man. Dugar was convicted and sentenced to 54 years, but maintained his innocence all along. In 2013, his brother wrote him a letter confessing to the crime and asking for his forgiveness, but the justice system was uninterested.
In 2018, a judge dismissed it, saying the confession was unreliable because the brother "was already serving a 99-year prison sentence for his involvement in a 2008 home invasion and armed robbery that left a 6-year-old boy shot in the head."
However, a Court of Appeals had a different take on the matter and decided that Dugar deserved a new trial, opining that a jury just might not agree with the judge who dismissed it. Dugar has not been entirely exonerated and may face a new trial — but for now he is free. Somewhat. As a condition of his release, he is required to spend 90 days in a residential transitional facility, and then he will be free after that. Hopefully.
While it may seem as though "someone else literally confessing to the crime you are in prison for" would have some bearing on whether or not you continue to stay in prison, that is often not the case. There are many people in prison not only for crimes they didn't commit, but crimes that other people have been convicted of and served their time for.
Sadly, "actual innocence" has basically no value in the American legal system. I originally typed "has basically no value in the American legal system once someone has been convicted" — but it barely has any value before then, either, if you want the truth. The Reid Technique (which is banned in the UK), an interrogation method favored by US police officers and one we frequently see on television procedurals, is practically designed to elicit false confessions by telling suspects that there is evidence against them when there isn't, and that their only chance for mercy is to confess. In fact, the original test case for the technique, developed by psychologist John Reid, ended up being a false confession. If someone confesses to a crime, it doesn't actually matter if they are innocent or not.
It also works against them if they are actually convicted and innocent, in terms of being released from prison. In many cases, getting out of prison means admitting to guilt and showing remorse — so if you're innocent, the only way to get paroled is to lie. Thus, there have been cases in which innocent people died in prison because they didn't want to confess to a crime they didn't commit — notably Timothy Cole, who would have been released had he confessed to the rape of his college classmate. He was posthumously pardoned 10 years after dying in prison, fully exonerated by DNA evidence and the confession of the actual perpetrator (which had actually occurred four years before Cole died).
While some might believe the confession of guilt and remorse is necessary to reduce recidivism, multiple studies have shown that those who confess guilt are actually more likely to reoffend than those who maintain their innocence.
It would be really great if things would change, but they probably will not, because people want to believe that things like this are very rare and the result of mistakes and individual bad actors, rather than a system that is designed on the premise that everyone ever accused or suspected of a crime is guilty.
*It is always worth it to side-eye any crime described as "gang-related," especially in Chicago, because the police have a tendency to include a lot of people who are not in gangs or are no longer in gangs in their databases, resulting in "gang-related sentence enhancements" for any crime committed by anyone on them, whether or not the crime is even remotely related to gang activity.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse