Longtime private attorney Stuart (Miranda: The Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent, 2004, etc.) traces a 1991 Arizona Buddhist temple massacre of nine monks, and the five men who confessed, under extreme police pressure, to murders they did not commit.
In the opening chapters, the author carefully reconstructs the story of the killings, the confessions of the alleged killers and the conflicting opinions of experts. What follows is based on the transcripts of the interrogations and trial, news coverage of the case and more than 50 interviews conducted by Stuart. In the fast-paced, day-by-day account of the weeks after the gruesome murders, details about potential motivation for such violence evaded understanding. The loot amounted to less than $3,000, a couple of cameras and a bullhorn. Sloppy evidence helped police profile the killers as disorganized, young and stupid, but, despite potential leads, they repeatedly came up with nothing, in part because the victims had no known enemies. When a man stepped forward to feed them incriminating, false information about his knowledge of and involvement with the murders, investigators overlooked the many flaws in his story in favor of having a guilty party. After coercing confessions from men—dubbed the “Tucson Four”—who, it would later come to light, had nothing to do with the murders, these men recanted, to no avail. It was only after new physical evidence proved that two different people had committed the murders that the wrongly convicted confessors were freed. At the heart of the book lie irreconcilable questions about interrogation tactics, coerced confessions, convictions with no evidence and the stakes of forcing a confession.
Intriguing subject deadened by melodramatic writing.