A 14-year-old Escondido boy said he would rather die than go to jail.
So he told detectives what they wanted to hear -- that he had killed his 12-year-old sister, Stephanie, who was found stabbed to death on her bedroom floor in 1998.
A judge ultimately threw out Michael Crowe's confession, saying it was coerced by detectives.
A Modesto defense attorney wants the same for his client, Russell Jones, who admitted to Modesto police that he punched his roommate during a fight over $20, then buried her body in the foothills.
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It's rare for a judge to throw out a confession, said Phyllis Gerstenfeld, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at California State University, Stanislaus. But she says false confessions are more common than most people believe, citing the Escondido boy as an example.
"A lot of people assume that people wouldn't confess to things if they're innocent," said Gerstenfeld, who is not a defense witness for Jones. "But research shows that's not the case at all."
Gerstenfeld said people may lie or tell half-truths to police because they want to protect their families. Some even become convinced of their guilt during hours or days of questioning. Others may believe the police are there to help them.
"Police want honest confessions, but those techniques can sometimes result in false confessions," Gerstenfeld said, referring to the "good cop, bad cop" routine or interviews intended to wear down defendants over hours or days.
Jones' attorney, Frank Carson, said Jones believed police wanted to throw his parents in jail after he revealed that he buried Dena Raley- McCluskey's body on their property near Groveland. Jones said he was "in bad shape" after the death of his fiancée and took to stints of early-morning binge drinking.
In a series of interviews recounted by authorities in court, Jones said he found Raley-McCluskey's body on the bathroom floor of a home they shared on Karen Way, panicked because he had served time for violating federal weapons laws and didn't think anyone would believe he didn't kill her, according to testimony.
Jones admitted burying her body near Groveland, and pointed out the spot to authorities after the district attorney's office wrote a letter saying Jones would be viewed as a cooperative witness unless authorities developed evidence that he killed Raley-McCluskey.
After days of questioning, Jones told detectives he sent the small woman crashing to the floor with a single punch at the end of a long day of drinking. They had been arguing over a bar bill.
During testimony in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees asked Jones how he could be so "terrified and afraid of police" but still take their money to buy cigarettes.
She pointed out his confession included a number of details, including the name of the bar where Jones said he went with Raley-McCluskey, how many hours they spent there and their fight.
Jones, 49, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail. After the preliminary hearing, which continues today, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira will decide if Jones should stand trial.
The body of Raley-McCluskey, 36, was unearthed in a shallow grave in Tuolumne County on Nov. 1, 2007. She was last seen by her family Oct. 10, 1999.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.