Here is a story about Barton I didn’t tell you in the main book, but I will tell it now,
it will help you understand one part of our judicial system that is wrong.
False confessions are when people say they did something wrong, when they didn’t.
False confessions are wrong in every way that we can measure justice.
This usually happens at police stations. False confessions damage people and damages our judicial system.
Some people believe that an innocent man can’t be made to confess to a crime he didn’t do.
This is a lie, and we will see it play out here.
Barton knew Nevin Dweller a long time before they each moved into the poorhouse.
Barton was a little older, and Nevin was mentally-delayed. ‘Simple’ was the term they used back then.
As a custodian for the courthouse, Barton regularly spent time in the clock tower. Each three days, he wound the weights that powered the big clock. The clock tower has four sides, and a walkway with a door and balcony out each side (each door locks).
Barton would occassionally step out on the balconies and have a look around.
In 1903, he spotted a house fire north of the courthouse. He hollered at a couple of men on the street to ring the fire bell. The fire was put out, and the house was rebuildable.
Anyway, in 1904, after the ‘winding of the clock’, Barton was out on the west balcony.
He saw a man in bib overalls, with no shirt, run out of the dry goods store with one fist clenched around something and a knife in his other hand. The man wore a cap and kerchief, covering his head and face.
Soon after, Mr. Gimble, the owner, came out yelling for the Sheriff.
The Sheriff's Department and City Police responded. Matters were discussed and officers set out to look for the man.
Even with the hat and mask, Mr. Gimble was pretty sure it was Nevin Dweller, though Mr. Gimble was in the back of the store when the robbery happened. A new clerk was minding the front counter. Nevin had light-fingered stuff from his store before, or so Mr. Gimble suspected. Candy and such.
But Mr. Gimble didn’t know that his own 13 year-old daughter would wait for Nevin to come into the store, then pocket candy and other things for herself. This gave her more candy than her mama wanted her to have, and threw the suspicion to someone else. She would take some man-things too, to make it look like Nevin did it.
Anyway, the police found Nevin right away, but with no money and no big knife, like the robber had.
With the town in an uproar, it took a while for Barton to get to the Sheriff to tell him what he saw. When they finally met-up a couple of hours later, the Sheriff told Barton that Nevin had already confessed to the crime. Barton asked the Sheriff if he could talk to Nevin and have the Sheriff listen-in. The Sheriff put Nevin and Barton in a room, and went to the room next to it, that had a vent to listen through.
Barton started the conversation,
“Nevin, what is this I hear that you confessed to robbin' that store?”
“Well, the deputy told me that other people said I did it.”
“Alright then. Nevin, I have a paper and pencil, so tell me everything about the robbery and I will write it down.”
Barton was ready to write, and Nevin just sat there.
"I can’t say nothin’, ‘cause I don’t remember nothin.’”
“Then why did you sign a confession from the deputy?"
"Barton, the deputy told me what I did and wrote it down, and I signed it."
"You weren't there at the store, were you Nevin?"
“Then why did you say you did it?” Barton pressed in.
“The deputy told me I ought to do the right thing and confess.”
“But you just said you didn’t do it, Nevin. So now you’ve become a liar.
What you did is make a false confession; sayin’ you done something you really didn’t do.
"That’s the first thing, Nevin; you lied.
And you also helped a thief go free. Now the Good Lord only knows how many other stores will get robbed because you confessed to something you didn’t do. And how many more robberies will there be, before someone gets hurt?
Next, you helped an Officer of the Law get away with tellin' a lie. That’s serious."
"And by confessin' to a crime, you have shamed your family and friends, for admittin’ to such a terrible thing."
“But I ain’t got no family Burton. You and I are a lot alike in that way. Nobody now.” Nevin whispered sadly.
“Well” Barton said, “Some of your mama’s friends are still alive. How they must hurt for your mama, havin' a son that has shamed her name. Your mama’s reputation deserves better than this. This is about the worst thing you’ve ever done."
“But, Barton, the deputy let me wear his badge while I signed the confession. I looked so regal and powerful.
That's what the deputy said. Me and the deputy, we was like brothers then. He smiled at me and everything.
Not many people smile at me like that, ‘cept a few folks like you, who like me as I am.”
Barton smiled a stiff smile, "Yes Nevin, I like you, but this thing ain’t right, and we need to do what we can to fix it.
I’ve worked for the county government a while, and from what I hear; signed confessions are a powerful thing.”
“I’m fixin’ to talk to the Sheriff shortly and will see what we can do about this.”
Barton knocked on the door to be let out.
Eric J. Rose