THE TRIP TO DOTY ROAD
David Bates (Illinois exoneree), as told to Sara Paretsky
few can imagine any circumstances that would lead them to confess to a crime they didn’t commit, especially if the crime is a heinous one. But false confessions happen often, sometimes because the people who confess are overwhelmed and bewildered: They are alone, and interrogators are trained to keep suspects off balance. Under current legal rules, there are few restrictions on the lies that interrogators can tell the subject, so all the following are entirely permissible—“Your companion confessed,” “We have physical evidence linking you to the scene” and often “If you just say this, you can go home.” The ultimate tool to obtaining a confession is, far too often, torture—even in the twenty-first century, even in the United States, the bastion of liberty.
Torture—physical or psychological—changes everything for the victim. Even the spaces between moments of torture become unbearable, as David Bates recounts. His story is one of cruelty that is, sadly, far from unusual: Although the application of physical abuse in interrogations has declined sharply in the United States and elsewhere, psychological torture, in many forms, is still condoned and takes place every hour of the day in every country in the world and is among the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Life along Doty Road on Chicago’s far South Side takes place in many layers. Heading west from 103rd Street, Doty skirts the city of Chicago’s massive graveyard of towed and impounded cars and trucks. Doty then curves south, following the shoreline of Lake Calumet, and passes through the last of the marshes that used to make up the whole shoreline of the land where Chicago was built. Waterbirds of all kinds swim here, people fish— even if it’s illegal, the ten-foot-high marsh grasses provide good cover.
Above the marshes stands a mighty hill, covered in grass and wildflowers. They cover the CID landfill—the Calumet Industrial District—a century and a half’s worth of garbage trucked in from the three million people in the city. In the 1990s, when the landfill topped out, the city built a golf course over the garbage—one so good that people like Bill Clinton have helicoptered in to play there.
In 1983, garbage trucks were still hauling waste there twenty-four hours a day. At the bottom, along with the ducks and herons, stood the old steel mills, which had begun shutting down three years earlier. Today, nothing is left of the mills, although chemical companies are still doing business. Then as now, homeless people with feral dogs live in the swamps, and waste haulers dump loads illegally into the fragile marshes.
Doty Road is a place where no one’s screams are heard, where a dead body could lie undiscovered forever in the marshes and chemical wastes. Doty Road: it’s where the police threatened to take David Bates if he didn’t confess to a murder where they wanted a fast solution.
David Bates had just turned eighteen on October 29, 1983, when a crew of uniforms and detectives came to the back door of his parents’ home at 96th and Wentworth. It was about 7:30 in the morning. One held a .357 in Bates’s mother’s face and demanded to speak to her son.
“Just to ask him some questions,” they said, “a routine inquiry, no need for you to go to the police station with him. We’ll bring him back,” they said. Which they did. Eleven years later.
David was the third child of Lee and Rosa Lee Bates. His father was a Chicago native, but his mother had come to Chicago from Louisiana in the 1950s, part of the second Great Migration, looking for a better life for themselves and their children. David’s mother had only a second-grade education, but she and her husband built a successful restaurant and catering business, preparing some of Chicago’s best soul food.
David’s parents also provided a way station on what David calls a second underground railroad. As African Americans fled lynch mobs, forcible property seizures, rape, murder—and segregation—in the South, the Bates family provided a place to sleep while the new arrivals got on their feet. At Rosa Lee Bates’s funeral, the pastor asked how many in the church that day had found a temporary home with Mrs. Bates. Over a hundred people raised their hands.
David didn’t know why the police came for him that October morning. He didn’t know they had already put him in the frame for the murder of a drug dealer named Leon Barkan, which had happened two days earlier.
“I knew about it—it happened half a mile from my home,” David says. “And I won’t claim I was a saint. I’d served as a lookout for the Gangster Disciples, mostly looking for excitement, but murder was way outside my experience. And Barkan’s murder—that had nothing to do with me or anyone I knew.”
Even if David Bates had been a saint, it wouldn’t necessarily have protected him from the Area Two detectives: they didn’t need any particular rationale to take in an African American for questioning—honor students, nurses, murderers, armed robbers, medical equipment installers—they all received equal treatment at the hands of the law in Area Two.
David was taken to Area Two headquarters on 111th Street, about three miles from his home. He was handcuffed to a wall and left there alone. After two hours, two detectives appeared.
“Tell us about Leon Barkan’s murder. We know you were at 92nd and Harvard. Tell us what you did and the state’s attorney will go easy on you. What did you do with the gun?”
All the time they were shouting questions at him, they were slapping, kicking and punching him. David couldn’t see their badges; he didn’t learn their names.
“I memorized their faces and their mannerisms. One had curly hair and glasses, so I called him Curly. The other I thought of as Moustache.”
David adds, “I kept saying I didn’t know anything. This went on about forty-five minutes and then they left me alone again, still handcuffed to the wall. The funny thing is, what they were doing didn’t seem criminal at first, it just seemed part of the territory, of being a black kid on the South Side.”
He was left alone, still cuffed to the wall, trying to assess the situation logically. He couldn’t understand why Curly and Moustache thought he had murdered Leon Barkan. In his naïveté he thought he could use logic to show them that their suspicions were wrong. Logic and evidence didn’t play a role at Area Two, as David learned over the course of the next very long day.
“The second session, that was what put me on alert. They came in and started right away saying, ‘We heard this about you, that you were at 92nd and Harvard when Barkan was killed. Someone told us they saw you there, they saw you with a gun.’
“They kept kicking and beating me and calling me names. I thought I could handle it, but when they left, Curly said, ‘We’ve been playing with you. After this, they’ll take you apart and you won’t be coming back. They’ll take you to Doty Road.’ ”
David had just turned eighteen. He was alone. He had been chained to a ring screwed into the wall for many hours. He knew what “Doty Road” meant. He was terrified.
The ring in the wall was part of an organized setup for committing torture by Area Two detectives. (The Chicago Police Department has twenty-five districts divided now among three areas; in 1983 there were five areas. The area headquarters are where investigative officers for homicide, violent crimes, gangs, narcotics and other major offenses work.)
In 1983, when David Bates was in custody, he knew nothing about the pattern and practice of torture at Area Two. He only knew that he needed to summon whatever mental and physical resources he had to cope with what might come next. In his ignorance, he thought he could be strong enough to stand up to whatever the detectives might do.
“‘The Trip to Doty Road’ reprinted from Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger. Copyright © 2017 by Sara Paretsky. Used with permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.”