Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 18, 2014

Another View: Why punish mentally ill defendant?

If Ingham County voters are perplexed by the propensity of their prosecuting attorneys to pursue vulnerable defendants who later turn out to be innocent, one can hardly blame them. Yet another example has come to light in the case of Kosgar Lado, a Sudanese refugee who was charged with murder last summer after a confusing police interrogation in which Lado said both that he “just shot him” and that he “didn’t shoot nobody.” But Lansing police detectives concerned about the discrepancies in his statements continued their investigation. And a month later, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charge. (Indeed, another man has been charged with murder and ordered to stand trial in that case.)

Yet prosecutors then decided to pursue a felony charge of lying to police against Lado, who has spent months tied up in the criminal justice system because of it. During those months, Lado has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and ruled incompetent to stand trial. Still, prosecutors have not yet dropped the charge. Following (a Lansing State Journal) report on the case and a competency hearing last week, Lado’s attorney said he expects the charge will be dropped as part of an agreement that Lado receive mental health treatment.

Experts in wrongful prosecution and false confessions were surprised to hear of a prosecutor pursuing a false confession charge against a mentally ill individual who made the alleged confession under the duress of police interrogation. As Steven Drizin, director of Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school, put it: “Lado did not purposely lead the police into a rabbit hole. He was arrested by police, put in handcuffs and taken ... for an interrogation. He clearly did not want to talk with the police.”

Another expert said about 25 percent of convicts later cleared by DNA evidence had made a confession during questioning.

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