The Trusted Network of Private Investigators
 
Find an Investigator
Find an Investigator

Investigate Innocence Cases with Caution

  • May 20, 2014
  • by Karen S. Beers

Unless your head is buried in the sand, or you do not have the Internet, or perhaps you do not even own a television set, then you have seen the many news stories of the innocent individuals who have been released from prison. Most of the releases have been due to DNA evidence that have proven their innocence.

Personally I think this is wonderful, and every story I have read about these releases have made me feel happiness for the innocent, yet saddened that they were forced to spend so many years of their lives innocently confined to prison, separated from their loved ones, unable to live the life of freedom they deserved to live.

investigate-innocence-cases-with-caution

Also, while reading these stories I have felt anger towards the system and the individuals who helped put these innocent people in prison, especially those prosecutors or police officers, detectives, etc. who later we find were corrupt, tainting the very pillars of justice they have sworn to uphold; when at a young age these are the same professionals we were taught to believe and trust.

As investigators, we are still human, and some cases may draw us in more than others. Some cases can really tug at our heart strings and make us want to jump in with both feet to help…and in some instances we are willing to help free of charge.

So if you noticed, and a good investigator would, when I mentioned reading these stories, I have at least three emotions that hit me. Emotions are natural, and they are within each and every one of us human beings. Some of us may not express our emotions well, or appropriate according to what some people may think. However, right, wrong or indifferent, they are our emotions.

As investigators, we are still human, and some cases may draw us in more than others. Some cases can really tug at our heart strings and make us want to jump in with both feet to help…and in some instances we are willing to help free of charge. Most of us have a case or several that we have put our heart, soul, and full investigative skills into just to “help” another person that we see or perceive has been wronged.

I learned an important lesson between my head and heart the hard way, which is why I have chosen to write this article. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome that so many innocent prisoners have been set free, and of course our agency has and will continue to help on these types of cases.

The “innocent” in prison, as you might know consist of hundreds of thousands of cases. Or at least that is what prisoners and their families will tell you, whether they are truly “innocent” or not. So when we are asked to work on one of these cases, how do we know if the people involved are being truthful?

To be quite honest, we will not know just by listening or reading their words alone. The truth, bit by bit may come forth as you begin the process of combing through what is sometimes thousands of pages of transcripts and reports. The time it takes to read and decipher the pertinent information is, as one commercial on television puts it – priceless. You have put in countless hours and you know you are not getting a dime, yet you continue on your quest because you want to help an innocent human being be freed from prison.

The lesson I am referring to came from a case I was contacted on. I will not go into any details due to perhaps someone reading this may believe the opposite of what I believe on the case. We all have our own belief systems as well as our own investigative skills, and how we interpret what may be truth or fiction in a case.

Of course I am not writing about scientific evidence, for that is a whole different ballgame. I am referring to our human instinct and how we are able to decipher the truth from fiction. Sometimes you might find the truth by what the person asking for help may not bother to offer.

This particular case had one heck of an informative website. It was loaded with innocence throughout every page, and I was reading and reading and feeling heart pains for this family. I knew the innocent murderer truly was innocent, and by gosh I was going to help set them free.

In my defense, this was the first case that I was asked to look at pro bono; I have become a bit more cautious since then. When the family member of the “innocent” murderer contacted me, I was sucked right in, hook, line and sinker, and I don’t even fish. But my heart was leading me into this case; my brain did not enter the picture until I was way past the “priceless” point.

Most of these cases have a family member on the outside of prison who has posted the innocence of their loved ones everywhere. They have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and to the moon and back accounts, they also have personal blogs and websites, they are all over the Internet.

This particular case had one heck of an informative website. It was loaded with innocence throughout every page, and I was reading and reading and feeling heart pains for this family. I knew the innocent murderer truly was innocent, and by gosh I was going to help set them free.

Once my brain showed up, I began to think. What a concept. Things were just so one sided in this story. Granted it really was an interesting story with twists and turns with the whole nine yards. However, once my brain came into the picture and I began to write down questions and I began to seek out the answers, the yellow brick road became clearer and I was on my way to Oz.

I had already Googled the name of the prisoner several times, and I kept coming up with the same information over and over again. So I decided one by one I would Google the other players in the story. One by one I found another yellow brick towards my destination. I saved every link to all of the websites where I found bits and pieces of information, I did not want to research them all again.

Then one day I found a memorial site dedicated to the victim in the case. Talk about an eye opener. I followed a link on the memorial page, which led me to the victim’s family website; which was hidden unless you were to use explicit key word searches. It wasn’t the writings by the family claiming that the right person was in prison or the hurt and pain they had been going through due to the prisoner’s family trying to get that person set free. Remember, my brain had shown up, and I was learning there was much more to the story.

My first reaction while reading the victim’s site, was, well of course you think the right person is in prison, you want to believe the jurors got it correct. We all know very well many cases where the jurors got it not only wrong, but factually wrong. I understand these families do not want to believe that the wrong person was convicted. The family feels the person who took their loved one’s life was caught, tried and convicted, and that is where their hearts and minds are content.

The prisoner’s family website had transcripts of police interrogations, quotes from numerous individuals, and countless pages of scenarios to prove their innocence. There were two very important pieces of information their website did not contain that the victim’s family website had provided.

These two pieces of information were vital as far as my mind was concerned. One was a recording of a witness and the prisoner. Not that there was a smoking gun admitting killing the victim, but when asked why they killed the victim, there was a moment of silence and then something about not wanting to talk. It was more about what wasn’t said in this recorded conversation. Perhaps an innocent person might want to take any opportunity when it presents itself to voice their innocence, whether they want to talk about it or not.

The moral of this story is to proceed cautiously with your brain in full working order. Leave your heart out of the case until you are at least somewhat sure of the person’s innocence. Then if you truly feel the need, go ahead and bring forth your heart.

The other piece of information was the entire court transcript. The transcript gave me the final pieces that I needed to tactfully excuse myself from any further work on the case. Again in this particular case, the court transcript, which was not linked to the prisoner’s family website, was telling. If there is nothing to hide, then lay it all on the table, not just the sections you want people to read so they are sucked into your case. Although that is the sole purpose in using that tactic and it works.

The moral of this story is to proceed cautiously with your brain in full working order. Leave your heart out of the case until you are at least somewhat sure of the person’s innocence. Then if you truly feel the need, go ahead and bring forth your heart. It’s normal to feel bad for innocent people in prison, but there is not enough time in the day to hop on every case where a person claims to be innocent. The truly innocent deserve our time, help and expertise.


About the Author

Karen S. Beers

Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI
 of Associates in Forensic Investigations, LLC is a Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, and Certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations to include as a forensic autopsy assistant; she co-developed 'Death Investigation for Private Investigators' distance learning and continuing education at www.MedicolegalDeathInvestigations.com.

Karen began her investigative career in 1996, also earning her Bachelor's in Social Work from Colorado State University (Magna Cum Laude).  She is also a Certified Criminal Defense Investigator (CCDI) and certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations.  In addition to  be a subject matter expert in death investigations, her background, education and experience with victim advocacy and counseling are valuable assets in working with families and victims of traumatic events.

As a death investigator Karen was involved in the investigations of all manners of deaths and incidents, training under three Forensic Pathologists.  From 2004-2006 she investigated and assisted with numerous death cases and scenes, and assisted with forensic autopsies.
As Team Beers, they provide Expert Consultations and Legal Investigations of Death and Injury Causation in Civil, Criminal and Probate litigation – Together We’re Better!


Tell us what you think:

Search Articles


Follow PInow


PI News Round-Up Newsletter

Private investigator news, business tips and events delivered to your inbox.

Newsletter Archive →


Article Categories


Join PInow

Reach more clients and grow your business.

Join Today

  • Nationwide Network
  • Local Search Optimization
  • Website Templates

Read Member Testimonials →

The all-in-one software for process servers, at work or on the road.

Learn More