Record tainted by false confession

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After 15 years working in the fast-food industry, Christine Williams knew the drill to follow during a robbery.

Christine Williams: Woman who was robbed after leaving her fast-food job signed a confession saying she lied about the robbery.  Special
Special
Christine Williams: Woman who was robbed after leaving her fast-food job signed a confession saying she lied about the robbery.

Stay calm. Give the thieves what they want. Try to remember as many details as possible. Call the police and company as soon as possible.

Shortly after midnight Nov. 8, she did all of that when two men robbed her.

But that was just the beginning of her troubles. Before the end of that day, she would be the suspect, spending nearly 48 hours in jail, being fingerprinted and photographed, shamed and embarrassed.

Ms. Williams' naivety about police procedures converged with detectives' suspicions. In the end, she falsely confessed to committing a crime.

It started with what she thought was a little white lie.

Ms. Williams was at the end of a double shift at Church's Chicken on Peach Orchard Road. After 15 hours on the job, she wanted to get home, but first she had to balance the receipts. She kept coming up with a $20 difference. It was late on a school night, and her two employees were waiting to leave. One of their mothers kept calling. Letting the employees leave without her violated company policy, but Ms. Williams told the two they could go.

She realized her mistake in 10 or 15 minutes, grabbed her purse and keys, set the alarm and locked the doors. She was halfway to her car when she heard a male voice call to her. There were two of them, faces covered, guns pointed, Ms. Williams would tell police.

"I was trying to be as quick as possible. One stood back and yelled out instructions," Ms. Williams said.

"The one next to me didn't say anything. He was really nervous. He dropped his gun twice, and that's what really scared me.

"They could have whatever they wanted, because I wanted to walk out of there. I have four children at home."

Although it was very late by the time she got home, Ms. Williams had to open the restaurant the next morning. At 1 p.m. she was at the Augusta-Richmond County Law Enforcement Center to meet with detectives.

"When I got down there I became a suspect -- I was the criminal," Ms. Williams said.

"I understand he (the first officer accusing her) was trying to do his job ... but they were looking in the wrong place with me," Ms. Williams said.

By midday, Ms. Williams had falsely confessed to having committed a crime. She signed a statement that read:

"I did not get robbed at Church's Chicken on Peach Orchard Rd."

Ms. Williams falsely told the detectives that she walked out of the restaurant with her two employees but went back inside to get her cell phone and keys, according to the police report.

"If you lie, it's instinct to believe you're lying to cover something up," Lt. Scott Peebles said.

Sgt. Richard Roundtree, who obtained Ms. Williams "confession," believed she was covering up her involvement in a robbery.

In addition, two witnesses saw what they assumed was Ms. Williams casually talking to two men and taking them into Church's. The witnesses didn't see the men's faces or any guns, they told Investigator Shawn Newsome.

The case was closed with Ms. Williams' arrest for making a false statement, a misdemeanor charge that remains on her previously clean record. She wasn't charged with taking part in a robbery or stealing the money because officers had no evidence, Lt. Peebles said.

Richmond County sheriff's investigators learned about five weeks later that Ms. Williams gave a false confession when they arrested several young men for a series of armed robberies. Church's on Peach Orchard Road was one of their first robberies.

"We were like, uh oh, something's wrong here," Lt. Peebles said.

Ms. Williams, who was fired and is now represented by an attorney, was called back to the sheriff's office. A different detective asked her what happened that night at Church's.

"Based on what has been learned, we request this charge be dropped against Mrs. Williams at your earliest convenience," Sgt. Blaise Dresser wrote to the solicitor's office.

Lt. Peebles said officers don't want people to falsely confess, but he said Ms. Williams brought the trouble onto herself.

"Had she not lied, this never would have happened," he said.

Ms. Williams said she understands how the officers saw red flags, but she believes they should have done more investigating. "They took the easy way out instead of going out and looking for these guys," she said.

Suspecting an employee participated in a robbery is reasonable because it happens a lot, Lt. Peebles said. A detective would logically believe that it was more likely when the "victim" lies about something, he said.

Interrogations can be tense and confrontational, but the person being questioned can leave at anytime unless he or she is under arrest, Lt. Peebles said.

Ms. Williams said the three officers who confronted her at the Law Enforcement Center were rude, obnoxious and arrogant. Sgt. Roundtree told her she had two options: arrest for armed robbery and sitting in jail without bond until trial, or a misdemeanor charge of making a false report of a crime, a charge that would be bondable.

Armed robbery meant 20 years in prison. Making a false report of a crime would probably end with a year's probation, Ms. Williams said she was told.

Ms. Williams had never been arrested before and said she didn't know what to do. She said she thought the officers were never going to believe her.

She thought of her children, that it was almost Thanksgiving. She thought of the stories of people exonerated only after years in prison.

"I just needed to get out of there and get with somebody who would be on my side," Ms. Williams said.

She said she asked Sgt. Roundtree what to write in her statement to confess to the misdemeanor charge. She had to write the statement before she could use the telephone, Ms. Williams said.

Sgt. Roundtree denies that. He said she asked about her options and he told her of the different charges. He said Ms. Williams made a call, then wrote out her statement.

Sgt. Roundtree didn't learn that Ms. Williams had falsely confessed until weeks later.

"I really didn't put much thought about it," he said.

In May, Ms. Williams was in Richmond County Superior Court when one of the men who robbed Church's pleaded guilty.

Because of the prosecutor's concern over calling Ms. Williams as a witness after the false confession, he agreed to reduce the charges against the man and recommend only five years in prison.

It was frustrating to see the charge reduced, Ms. Williams said.

The others involved in the robbery received more prison time, because they had participated in other holdups.

"I just kind of let it go, like a lot of people do," Ms. Williams said. "You go back to your regular life and do the best you can."

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

ONLINE EXTRA

Click here to view the original confession.

WHEN QUESTIONED BY POLICE

Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Scott Peebles said that unless you are placed under arrest, you are free to leave at any time.


An officer does not have to read a suspect's rights until the suspect is arrested and has asked specifically about the charge, Lt. Peebles said.


Augusta attorney Charles Lyons said knowing at what point you are under arrest can be tricky. You can always stop talking, however. If you are not allowed to leave, you should consider yourself under arrest, Mr. Lyons said.


However, you can be detained without a charge for 72 hours, Mr. Lyons said.

Comments (64) Add comment
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WhiskyDick
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WhiskyDick 06/01/08 - 05:41 am
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You lie to the police and

You lie to the police and your life suddenly gets difficult. Am I supposed to feel sorry for her?

namaste
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namaste 06/01/08 - 07:10 am
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And where was her lawyer?

And where was her lawyer? "She had to write the statement before she could use the telephone, Ms. Williams said."~~na uh...it's the other way around!

nightraider
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nightraider 06/01/08 - 07:16 am
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Sounds a little flakey still,

Sounds a little flakey still, to me!

cparker
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cparker 06/01/08 - 07:29 am
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WhishyDick, How can you not

WhishyDick, How can you not feel sorry for her when she obviously did not commit the crime? She was made to feel like a suspect and would not be believed otherwise. Some people working these mimimum wage jobs don't have the resources to just hire a lawyer to set the record straight. I am grateful the right people were caught before she spent time in prison simply for not being able to convince the police she didn't do it. This is not about race...I believe she was told to sign that statement to save herself and she did it.

WHATDIDIDO
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WHATDIDIDO 06/01/08 - 07:42 am
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CPARKER, don't you know that

CPARKER, don't you know that these are some of the same HYPOCRITES that went crazy over the Duke case. Yet, these brillant behinds do not understand how this young lady got caught up in the system.

jerome101
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jerome101 06/01/08 - 07:44 am
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namasta, humor me...have you

namasta, humor me...have you ever been arrested? And if so in what county? I would love to hear that you have actually "been" through this and it worked different. Why? Because then that just points out one more discrimination. Are you white or black? Male or female? I will even go as far to guess...white and male, right? As a black female who has been locked up in Richmond county...that IS how it works! The only thing about this that sounds different is the fact that no one is talking about the recording that is suppose to take place before and after you sign a statement, not Ms. Williams or Mr. Roundtree! There should have been a recording and I bet that would have a lot of you with your mouths dropped wide open. My phone call came after I signed the statement and everything was recorded-not before. My miranda rights were read and that was pretty much it. I did not know about only being held 72 hours if they do not press charges and what not. However, for the most part, I really was guilty of my crime. I had help to make it look worse, but I knew that was not relevant. That place would easily make an innocent person confess! Especially, if you are alone and scared!

intheknow
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intheknow 06/01/08 - 07:46 am
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It is obvious that this

It is obvious that this person is a victim in this case. You have what might be an average intelligent young lady against seasoned Investigators. The whiskyDicks of the world can say what they wish, this happens all of the time, in cases from shopliftings to murders.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 07:50 am
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Ignorance is a difficult

Ignorance is a difficult burden to bear. While Ms Williams appears to be innocent of the theft, her poor communication skills, her lack of knowledge of the law, and probably some of her cultural baggage led to a difficult situation. At her age, I'm surprised she wasn't better prepared. Oh well, different strokes.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 07:51 am
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Hypo, the Duke situation was

Hypo, the Duke situation was a racial "payback" against some white boys. How does that compare with this?

bone
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bone 06/01/08 - 07:54 am
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definitely the cops fault on

definitely the cops fault on this one. the city is going to pay thru the nose to settle this lawsuit. hypo, what does duke reference mean? as i understand it, the men didn't confess to anything but were falsely accused.

intheknow
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intheknow 06/01/08 - 08:19 am
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What do you mean Duke was a

What do you mean Duke was a racial payback? I thought the DA was white? I see the comparison. This young lady was innocent of a crime,as were the Duke player. This young lady was the victim of over zealous Investigators, as were the Duke players. Now can you see some comparison? If I wanted to use your racial payback, I could probably use it in this situation, but I will not.

WHATDIDIDO
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WHATDIDIDO 06/01/08 - 08:21 am
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Thank you intheknow, that is

Thank you intheknow, that is exactly what I was thinking. But, some will never see it that way because I said it.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 08:33 am
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What? Ms Williams got caught

What? Ms Williams got caught up in the system because of her lie and over zealous investigators. The Duke players were punished because a black woman filed a false claim against white boys and the politically correct morons liked the press. The ONLY similarity is the truth finally came out in the end.

cparker
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cparker 06/01/08 - 08:33 am
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I am hoping Hypo's point is

I am hoping Hypo's point is that the police made a case out of nothing against innocent people. It just happens these kids were white victims and had their lives ruined just the same. The police and prosecutor persuaded public opinion that they did something wrong and were believed. I don't agree with the racial payback patriciathomas brought up, but they did get treated like they were some how black....Just kidding.

cparker
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cparker 06/01/08 - 08:37 am
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pathriciathomas, she didn't

pathriciathomas, she didn't get caught up because she lied. She got caught up because she was coersed! She was given a choice of immediate release or 20 years...Do the math. It is strange that Lt. Peebles never mentioned recording her statement. I wish they would make public what was said during the investigative interview. I believe her because the rest of the story checks out according to what she said.

WHATDIDIDO
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WHATDIDIDO 06/01/08 - 08:43 am
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PT, you had to point out that

PT, you had to point out that the complainant was " Black" in the Duke case. Would it had made you feel better if she was White?

bone
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bone 06/01/08 - 09:04 am
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cparker, another fine line

cparker, another fine line from you this morning (the last sentence in 8:33 post) LOL! i don't believe she was coerced as much as she was bullied. hypo, race was a prime motivator in the rush-to-judgment against the defendants in the duke case; i do understand the comparison regarding overzealous investigators, though i didn't see it at first.

SHAUNERIA1
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SHAUNERIA1 06/01/08 - 09:06 am
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i agree with cparker. at the

i agree with cparker. at the time she was thinking about her kids. getting a lawyer and taking care of four kids and working a minimum wage job is not easy. so i felt like she had to what she thought was right to get home to her babies. thats any good mother.

cparker
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cparker 06/01/08 - 09:09 am
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bone, you are right that race

bone, you are right that race played a huge role, but I still disagree that is was racial payback. The Duke case makes my slogan fit society perfectly. Immorality has no race, gender, or address!

who knows
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who knows 06/01/08 - 09:14 am
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I am so tired of the "Black"

I am so tired of the "Black" and "white" issue coming out in everything in augusta that is why this city is going no where. It is people like you that keeps everything divided amoung racial lines. Lets get real people how many of you were really slaves? And look at the population of augusta, or for that matter the united states whites have become the minority which is fine but lets get over the color issue and grow up.

The Kingfish
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The Kingfish 06/01/08 - 09:16 am
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Shauneria1, I had just

Shauneria1, I had just thought the same thing right before I read your post.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 09:16 am
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cparker, of course the

cparker, of course the problem was the coercion she received. The police suspicion was amplified by Ms Williams attempt to cover her actions by rearranging the events (very slightly). Her admitting to the crime was just an end result of the coercion. The rest of her story does check out. It's the police procedure that caught her in its web.

bone
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bone 06/01/08 - 09:18 am
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i don't believe there was any

i don't believe there was any racial payback occurring in the duke case, cparker: the prosecution of that case clearly demonstrated that no one had enough brains to plot a conspiracy. i hope things work out for this lady; while it's true she blundered, nothing about this case indicates she is guilty of the crime she confessed to under duress from the investigators.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 09:20 am
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Hypo, the facts are what they

Hypo, the facts are what they are. If a White woman made the charges, she would have needed proof. The problem with the Duke case is that it was based on the word of a "professional" woman who was Black. All of the evidence was ignored because it didn't fit in with the racial news du jour.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 06/01/08 - 09:21 am
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Some folks just never have

Some folks just never have compassion for people who look like Mrs Williams. Why not feel sorry for her.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 09:23 am
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Very politically correct,

Very politically correct, bone. Of course the Duke case was a chance to show them white boy they're no better then anyone else. Payback for thousands of eons of black abuse.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 09:26 am
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owensjef2. How did you learn

owensjef2. How did you learn to write so well and to express yourself so well? Is it the "2"? I'm impressed. I can't wait for the "3". I agree with your 9:21 post, but the comments are about the actions, not the result. I think all of us hate it when someone gets caught in the bureaucracy web. It's part of the nightmare of big government.

bone
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bone 06/01/08 - 09:28 am
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honestly, pt, i'm just not

honestly, pt, i'm just not seeing it in the duke case. i don't think it would have made a great deal of difference to niphong if the accuser had been white; class seems to be the deciding factor in this one. the fact that rev. al and other morally corrupt media darlings got involved did a lot to stir the racial angle.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 06/01/08 - 09:44 am
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I think that must by why

I think that must by why perspective plays such a big part in these posts, bone. I feel Niphong handled the whole affair ineptly and with an eye to help his career, but I feel the opportunity would have never presented itself if the complaint, with no evidence to support it, was made by a white "professional". Dog bites man isn't news.

Freeman
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Freeman 06/01/08 - 09:48 am
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The lady was coerced. It is

The lady was coerced. It is plain to see. Any woman who had just been robbed at gunpoint and had children at home, certainly did not want the distress of being accused and then coerced to sign a confession BEFORE consulting an attorney. WRONG! Being able to consult an attorney during any phase of the investigation is your right by law, during or after the 72 hour waiting. You do not have to say or sign anything without consultation. If GA law allows this it is unconstitutional and should be legally challenged. Miranda DOES have to be read to you, whether you ask what you are charged with or not. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. She should have demanded her attorney and said nothing, and should never have written any statement, period. Typical 'redneck' variety of law enforcement in the south. And in this case, I think color was probably an issue with the investigators. You can't convince me that local LE is not prejudiced toward local people of color, or for that matter, that LE of color is not prejudiced against people who have more Anglo blood. There is a racial divide here in this town and it shows up in almost every altercation, perceived or not. See others' posts above.

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