Questionable Confession Delays Case Closure

Losing a loved one to a homicidal crime is hard to imagine. And after experiencing such devastation, finding closure must be a daunting task. Never knowing who was responsible, though, surely makes that emotional recovery even more trying. In a recent case, a man's delayed confession to a hit-and-run crime was found to be false, causing even more confusion and frustration for the effected family than having no confession at all. The case begs the question: when a confession in a serious crime seems false, what can be done?

In 2008, 20-year-old Melissa Lech was killed in a car accident; the driver who hit her left the scene and was never identified. Then, two years ago, a stranger arrived at the home of Melissa's sister, Michelle, and claimed to have been the one; David McCarthy explained with convincing detail that he had killed her. When McCarthy left Michelle Lech's home, she reported the man and he was arrested a few hours later. Earlier this month, charges against McCarthy were dropped on the basis that his guilt could not be proven without reasonable doubt. Specifically, Prosecution Psychologist Randi Zoot found that McCarthy suffered from mental illness and had a history of falsely admitting to crimes, suggesting that this was likely what happened in this case as well. Further, evidence that had potential for linking McCarthy to the crime—paint chips found on the scene that seemed to belong to his vehicle—did not match.

The lingering possibility that McCarthy's confession could have been the truth is troubling enough—indeed, the Lech family still feels strongly that he did in fact kill Melissa, and he is now free. However, even if the confession was false, it seems there ought to be severe consequences given to someone causing this level of distress to the victim's family and no doubt costing the police the effort and money involved in investigating the claim. Surely, the work of understanding what happened on that day in 2008 is not done. Whether it was McCarthy or another person who has not yet been found, whoever committed the crime is still out there, and closure is still out of sight.

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