By Michael McCutcheon
NORWALK, CT – Peter Reilly was just 18 years old when he was charged with the murder of his mother—a murder which he did not commit.
But, according to an opinion piece in the Connecticut Post this week, he was interrogated for hours and was eventually convicted for murdering his mother. Over two years later, he was exonerated, yet, nearly 50 years later, interrogation practices remain the same, Reilly maintains.
Reilly’s recent retelling of the events that changed his life begins by remembering the day of the murder. He was at church and arrived home to find his mother dead, he writes.
When the police he called for arrived, he was detained and taken to the police station, where he was kept awake and interrogated through the night and into the early morning, Reilly said.
“I was subjected to an interrogation and even took a voluntary polygraph test. I lived in a small town—I trusted the local law enforcement, and even knew some of the officers who were interrogating me. I genuinely believed they were there to help me,” Reilly writes in the Post.
Over the many hours of interrogation, Reilly said he remembers being informed numerous times that he had failed the polygraph test, even though he knew he did not lie.
Eventually, remembers Reilly, “over hours of interrogations, they convinced me that I had somehow done something I couldn’t imagine. It wasn’t until two years later that evidence showed I clearly could not have done what I was tricked into believing.”
Despite his exoneration, the real murderer was never found.
“Ever since my exoneration,” Reilly states, “I have been an advocate for reform of police interrogation methods. Law enforcement frequently stops me and asks, ‘Are you the real Peter Reilly?’ because they are struck by my story; yet our practices remain the same. No one should have to go through what I did.”
Reilly adds that “nearly 50 years later, I am appalled that Connecticut still allows these tactics to be used against kids and that more have gone to prison wrongfully through their use … [a false confession] is the most common contributing factor among homicide exonerations—and present in 30 percent of all exonerations proven through DNA. And here in Connecticut, at least 29 percent of our already 34 unearthed wrongful convictions have involved false confessions.”
According to Reilly, it remains legal in Connecticut for police to lie to children during interrogations, which Reilly said is bad because “the risk of young people falsely confessing is well documented to be greater than that of adults, and they especially deserve protection from the use of deceptive tactics to obtain confessions.”
Now, Reilly is advocating for SB1071, state legislation that Reilly assures “would help prevent wrongful convictions in Connecticut by ensuring reliable confessions.
“The cases of Connecticut’s exonerees, including myself,” concludes Reilly, “demonstrate that confessions derived through deceptive tactics cannot be trusted. We must pass SB1071 here in Connecticut—we cannot wait anymore to protect our children.”