ALBEMARLE COUNTY, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- When Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a pardon for Robert Davis on Monday, he cited problems with the interrogation by the Albemarle County Police Department as one of the reasons.
Among the criticisms that have been leveled at the detectives conducting the interrogation are that, over the course of more than five hours, they pressured and ultimately elicited an unreliable confession from Davis, who was 18 at the time.
"If you cooperate with me, then I can work with the Commonwealth and say that you cooperated with me, but son, if you don't cooperate with me, then I can't do that, and then I can't tell your mom that I can save you from the ultimate," a detective told Davis in the videotaped interrogation.
According to Steven Drizin, an expert in false confessions at the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, the Davis interrogation is a classic case of police believing a suspect is guilty and then going to great lengths to coerce a confession.
"That belief drives them during the interrogation to use increasingly aggressive, hostile and coercive tactics against the suspect," said Drizin.
Davis, who had denied involvement in the slayings of 41-year-old Nola Charles and her three-year-old son William dozens of times, sounded increasingly desperate as the interrogation went on.
"I just want to know, am I the killer," he asked the detective in a shaky voice about five hours into the interrogation, soon insisting "cause I didn't kill nobody."
And later, Davis, who was described by a psychologist as immature and having mental health problems, starts offering a confession. He seems to believe it will allow him to go home.
"Do you think by me telling you this I can go home today or tonight," he asked.
The officer tells him he doubts it and explains Davis has a court hearing on the following Monday.
"Well then why am I lying about all this to you just so I can go home," Davis asked.
Drizen says he believes McAuliffe exhibited bravery by issuing the pardon to Davis, and he hopes it will lead to pardons in other pending cases around the country.
"I'm hoping that this will inspire other governors, police officers, prosecutors and defense attorneys to do the same kind of digging," he said.
Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers declined to comment on the Davis interrogation, which took place prior to his joining the department. He says officers use today's best practices in their interrogations and that they undergo regular training.