In 1980, a Lowell woman was bludgeoned to death in her home with no leads on the perpetrator. Roland Phinney, the victim’s next door neighbor, was known for taking pictures of women, so he was brought in for questioning. Phinney was somewhat mentally challenged. After a twelve-hour unrecorded interrogation, a written confession emerged.
Phinney later recanted the confession, but it was still used in his trial. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1990 despite no physical evidence. Years later, Phinney’s lawyer discovered that the police had questioned another man about the murder, because the man’s wife suspected that he had been the woman’s killer. The man had apparently been agitated in the weeks prior to the murder and had come home the night of the murder and immediately washed his own clothes, which was something he had never done before.
A Massachusetts Superior Court ordered a new trial in 2003. In 2008, Phinney was finally retried and acquitted.