The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKEL
Alfred Lewis was convicted of bank robbery, grand larceny, and assault, after a jury trial in the New York State courts in 1958.
He was sentenced to a term of 30 to 60 years. Since then, he has persistently sought to have his conviction vacated on the ground, inter alia, that confessions
introduced at his trial were the product of physical and mental coercion. These efforts started when, pursuant to a pro se coram nobis petition, a Huntley hearing was held in January 1970 by Justice Edward T. McCaffrey, who had presided at the original trial, to determine whether the confessions were the product of unconstitutional coercion. In an opinion dated March 24, 1970, Justice McCaffrey denied the application, finding that the confessions "were voluntarily made and were not the result of physical coercion of any kind." The decision was affirmed without opinion, 35 A.D.2d 1086, 316 N.Y.S.2d 191 (1st Dep't 1970), and leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied. A pro se habeas corpus petition was then filed in the Western District of New York, again attacking the voluntariness of the confessions. Judge Curtin, in an unpublished memorandum opinion, denied the petition by order dated June 28, 1971, on the ground that the Huntley hearing had adequately determined the issue. Both Judge Curtin and the Court of Appeals denied a certificate of probable cause, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Still moving pro se (although assisted by a brief of the Cornell Legal Assistance Project), petitioner filed the instant petition in the Northern District of New York on July 17, 1974, raising the voluntariness issue along with the adequacy of the state court proceeding. The petition was denied by Judge Port. This time, however, the Court of Appeals granted a certificate of probable cause, assigned counsel, reversed "as to the issue of mental and psychological coercion", and remanded for a hearing to resolve the factual disputes on that issue. United States ex rel. Lewis v. Henderson, 520 F.2d 896 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 998, 96 S. Ct. 429, 46 L. Ed. 2d 373 (1975).
Judge Port continued the assignment of counsel and transferred the case to this district for a hearing, which was held on April 5, 1976. Having reviewed the evidence, which is summarized below, and the legal arguments of the parties, the court concludes that the writ must issue.
The evidence adduced at this court's hearing included the testimony of petitioner and of Dr. Lawrence Lichenstein, a psychologist, in support of the petition. Respondent presented Vincent Beckles and William Corbett, two of the detectives who questioned petitioner prior to his confessions. Exhibits included the transcript of the Huntley hearing, where Beckles and Corbett, but not petitioner, also testified, and the transcript of the trial, which included testimony of petitioner,
Beckles, and Corbett.
At the hearing before this court, petitioner testified as follows:
He was picked up by the police at approximately 8:30 p.m. on February 17, 1958, and taken to the 30th Precinct, where he was questioned about some money the police claimed to have heard he possessed. When asked where he got the money, he said that he had won it gambling. The questioning started at a desk in a large room. After a few minutes there, petitioner was taken to a room containing "nine or ten beds," where he was seated in a chair. Initially, an Inspector Walsh asked most of the questions. Shortly after the interrogations began, a Detective Corbett came and actively participated in the questioning. Petitioner refused to tell where the money was, so he was beaten, primarily by Corbett and Walsh, but also by several others, as there were always six to eight, or more, people in the interrogation room. Later in his testimony, petitioner also recalled that Inspector Walsh
"asked me if I wanted to call somebody, wanted to make a telephone call, and I didn't have this in mind, although when he said it I immediately thought of calling my family and I said yes. And he said, 'Well, if you cooperate, you can make a telephone call, you just tell us what we want to know and tell us where the money is and we'll let you call.' And I said -- when I said I couldn't do that, he said, 'Well, you can't make a telephone call.'"
Later that night, petitioner was taken to his apartment, where some of his clothing and personal property were gathered. He was then returned to the 30th Precinct, where the police "held an identification session where I was told to put on various articles of clothing and put on this hat and that hat, and so forth and stand before a peephole for identification purposes." There were several detectives in the "identification room," but apparently only petitioner was placed before the peephole for identification. Petitioner was then taken back to the room with the beds in it, where he was left for a few hours, although there "was always someone in the room with me."
The questioning resumed about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, at which time petitioner was told that he had been positively identified as the robber, and that he should admit the robbery, cooperate, and produce the money. No one ever told him that he had been arrested for the robbery, that he had a right to a lawyer and a right to remain silent, or that what he said could be used against him in a court of law. Petitioner continued to be beaten and questioned throughout the night. He had no food and was permitted no sleep. He saw detectives with coffee and sandwiches, "but I never was offered any food." The interrogations at the 30th Precinct continued into the morning of February 18th.
About noon or 1:00 p.m. on the 18th, petitioner was taken to the 42d Precinct. Lewis said that he was "tired, . . . weak, . . . exhausted, . . . almost beaten . . . ." at the time of the transfer. At some point, either shortly before or after being moved, he was told that he was being charged with an assault. When he got to the 42d Precinct, with Detective Corbett "running the show," petitioner was again questioned by several detectives concerning the location of the money.
One of the detectives -- not Corbett -- told petitioner that the assault charge would be dropped if he "cooperated, confessed and primarily produced the money."
When he refused, Corbett and the others started beating him again, and told him he would stay there until they got the money. After the beatings had continued for about half an hour, petitioner "couldn't . . . keep taking that kind of stuff" and told Corbett that the money was on a roof at an unspecified location. Petitioner did not, at this time, admit that the money was the bank money, but did agree to take the police to it.
Petitioner was then left alone for a few minutes in a detention pen. When Detective Beckles came to take him to get the money, petitioner refused to go, whereupon Beckles promised that "if I took him to the money that my contention that the money was mine as a result of gambling winnings would not be -- you know, would not be attacked . . . ." Fearing that the police might steal his money as they had his watch and gloves at the 30th Precinct,
Lewis insisted that a Mr. Joey Jones, whom he had seen in the 42d Precinct, would have to come along as a witness before he would even consider leading the police to the money.
At this point, Beckles left the room and Corbett came in and told petitioner that he would "be smart to go along with Beckles, because if you don't get that money you are going to answer to me." Corbett then left the room. Beckles reentered and informed petitioner that it had been arranged for Jones to accompany them when they went for the money.
At about 2:00 p.m., petitioner, Jones, Beckles, and Cook, Beckles's partner, left to get the money. After the money had been retrieved and they were driving back, petitioner asked Detective Beckles for a receipt. Beckles promised him one when they got to the station house. When they arrived back at the 42d Precinct at about 3:30 p.m., however, Corbett took charge again. He threatened that if petitioner did not shut up about the receipt, "you will get a receipt in the mouth," and told him to "come clean and admit to the robbery now because we've got the money." Corbett then took petitioner to a room where Corbett beat him while he was held by another detective. After this last beating, petitioner confessed to the robbery.
Corbett then took Lewis to a squad room where Inspector Walsh, Detective Beckles, and several other police officers were gathered. In response to their questions, petitioner gave the answers Corbett had instructed him to before they entered the squad room. Then, after a short period of time in the detention pen, petitioner was taken into another room where he repeated his confession before an assistant district attorney and a stenographer. Petitioner was then taken downstairs and put in a cell, where he remained for the night. At about 10:00 a.m. on the morning of the 19th, he was arraigned.
Dr. Lichenstein's Testimony
Dr. Lichenstein, Chief Psychologist at Kings County Hospital, reviewed and interpreted two reports prepared at Bellevue Hospital in March and June of 1958 wherein the description of petitioner said: "Severe Character Disorder, Sociopath of the Schizoid Type; a type of individual, who, under stress and strain, may develop a psychotic episode in future." Dr. Lichenstein testified that a sociopath, in addition to possessing other maladaptive characteristics, "tends to be rather infantile and immature, has a low frustration tolerance and [ sic ] prone to panic under stress." He described a psychotic episode as a "breakdown in ego functioning or a breakdown in the ability to think clearly . . . usually evidenced in confusion, disorientation." In response to a hypothetical question regarding petitioner's experiences prior to the confessions,
he concluded that it was more probable than not that petitioner had a psychotic break under the ...