Suspended from a door

Arthur LaFrana was arrested on December 30, 1937. Over the next several days, he was questioned about a number of robberies and confessed to two, one involving a bakery and another involving a liquor store. On December 31, the police began to interrogate him about another robbery, of a movie theater, where a cashier was murdered in the course of the crime. LaFrana denied that he was involved in the movie theater robbery for several days. Finally, on January 3, LaFrana admitted that he had robbed the theater and killed the cashier in the process and signed a confession to that effect.

When he was tried on the murder charge, LaFrana tried to prevent his confession from being admitted into evidence. He claimed that he had only confessed after being subject to an extensive third degree. He testified that on January 3 he was told that two other men had confessed and implicated him in the crime. When he continued to deny that he was involved, the captain who was interrogating him

hit him repeatedly with his fists and with a night stick. His hands were then handcuffed behind him and he was blindfolded. A rope was put in between the handcuffs and he was suspended from a door with his hands behind him and his feet almost off the floor. While he was hanging from the door, he was repeatedly struck until he lapsed into unconsciousness. When he lost consciousness he was taken down from the door and when he regained consciousness he would be hung back up on the door and again questioned and struck. After about fifteen minutes of this treatment he agreed to sign a confession.

Illinois v. LaFrana, 4 Ill. 2d 261, 265 (1954)

LaFrana also presented evidence that when he was booked at Cook County Jail on January 11, 1938, the county physician noted on his intake form that LaFrana had a black eye and abrasions on both his wrists. LaFrana also put into evidence a newspaper photo that showed he had several cuts on his face and a black eye. 4 Ill. 2d at 267-268.

The captain who obtained LaFrana’s confession took the stand and told a very different story. He claimed that LaFrana tried to escape and had to be subdued as a result. But he denied that LaFrana had been subject to any other harm at the station, and two other officers who testified agreed that they never saw LaFrana beaten. 4 Ill. 2d at 266. The trial judge, Thomas Kluczynski, denied the motion to suppress the confession and admitted it into evidence. LaFrana was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

After a lengthy series of appeals, his case reached the Illinois Supreme Court. In November 1954, that court reversed LaFrana’s conviction for murder on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecution at his trial did not disprove LaFrana’s claim that his confession had been coerced.

Published by

erdale13

Professor, History and Law, University of Florida

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