In 1984, a man was killed in Fall River, MA. The man was stabbed to death, which was witnessed by three people. These eyewitnesses told police that the victim was seen with a 5’7” black man before the stabbing took place. One informant told police that two men, both white and about 6’0”, had confessed to a woman regarding the crime. When the police brought in the woman for questioning, she insisted that the two men had come over just after the time of the murder but then stated that neither had confessed to the murder.
Police interrogated the woman for six days, using threats and intimidation. These threats included taking her children away from her and charging her as an accessory to murder. Finally, she stated that the two men had confessed to her. In court, the woman testified to this and the police told a grand jury that the woman’s previous statement was not significantly different than her testimony. Her statements made up the bulk of Sullivan’s case. He was convicted even though the earlier eyewitness descriptions were not mentioned. In 1986 he was sentenced to life in prison.
After the conviction, the woman recanted her statements and revealed that the confession had been coerced. Her interview tape was examined, and the conviction was reversed. Sullivan was retried in 1990 and acquitted of all charges.