THE TRIP TO DOTY ROAD
David Bates (Illinois exoneree), as told to Sara Paretsky
After another interval, perhaps two hours, Curly returned with a different detective, not Moustache. They unhooked him from the ring in the wall and put him in a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. Curly was in front, the other man behind.
“Before I knew it, they put something over my head,” David recalls. “I couldn’t breathe, there was something around my neck. I can’t remember if I passed out, but that’s when I knew everything they were doing wasn’t right.”
They took the bag from his head. To his horror and disgust, David could see that Curly was sexually aroused by the torture he was committing. David felt a deep sense of shame, as though he himself had provoked the arousal. It was well over a decade before David could bear to think—let alone talk about—Curly’s sexual excitement. He also felt a deep sense of humiliation because, he says, he reverted to feeling and responding like a small child. “Whatever toughness I thought I had—I became what they wanted me to be—and so they left off.”
They left him alone again. The time between this session and the next was the worst time. After the third session, David says, “I wanted to save myself. I decided that when the detectives came back in, I would scream as loudly as possible. I wanted them to be held accountable.”
When the men came back in, David hollered at the top of his voice. “They’d been doing it for so many years, with so many people, they were prepared for any response,” David says. “And they punched me in the stomach, they put the bag back over my head, they suffocated me again.”
After he’d been in the interrogation room for about twenty-four hours, a fresh set of detectives came in. One officer unchained him and spoke to him sympathetically, saying he’d heard what “those guys”—Curly and Moustache—had been doing. The officer claimed he wanted to help David. He told him what to say, how to phrase a confession of a murder he had not committed, “so you won’t have to deal with those guys.”
At this point, David had not been allowed to use a bathroom, nor been given anything to eat or drink. The state of his clothes and of his body was deeply shaming to him. Nonetheless, he was so new to police interrogation that he still believed the law would be on his side, if he could only find someone to listen to him.
The officer took David to the office of the assistant state’s attorney assigned to that police district. David thought his troubles were over. The law would now save him. He cried out how glad he was to see the state’s attorney and started to recount his ordeal. The state’s attorney turned to the officer and asked if any torture had taken place.
David said the officer took him out to the hall. “He told me if I didn’t sign the confession, he would hand me back to Curly and Moustache. He repeated that they would take me out to Doty Road. No one I knew ever heard of Doty Road like that. We all knew where it was, but we never heard it used as a threat, and this sounded like they were going to kill me if I didn’t confess.”
And so David went back to the state’s attorney’s office. The assistant on duty summoned his court reporter. With the officer’s help, the assistant state’s attorney dictated a confession that David signed; the confession included details of Leon Barkan’s murder.
The confession was as humiliating as the torture itself. It destroyed part of David’s sense of who he was. He had believed he was a strong person, but he had been humiliated and degraded. His personal code of behavior included not signing confessions, not giving in to coercion, but within two days of his arrest, he had done exactly that.
It’s been more than thirty years since David Bates signed that confession, but the effects of torture still linger in his mind and body. He was incarcerated for eleven years for a crime he didn’t commit. During that time, he never spoke to anyone of the torture that put him behind bars. No one at Area Two, no one in the courtroom where his trial took place, had listened to him or believed him when he had tried to explain himself. He felt completely alone and isolated in his humiliation. He kept it to himself for fear that his fellow inmates might view him as somehow lacking in courage.
He learned later that a friend of his, Gregory Banks, had been tortured into naming David the day before his own arrest. He learned that the bag that had been used to suffocate him was the vinyl cover to an IBM typewriter. He also learned that many of the men he was incarcerated with carried the same shaming secret he did.
Thirty-plus years after his torture, twenty years after his exoneration, David Bates has days where he can’t walk. The powerlessness he felt at his torturers’ hands sweeps through his body, paralyzing him. Many nights he wakes up drenched with sweat, his feet throbbing in pain.
Torture recurs in the minds and bodies of survivors because the very effect of torture is to make people feel that they were complicit in what happened to them. Their bodies betrayed them and so they feel a sense of betrayal clear through the core of their being.
When David turned to the assistant state’s attorney and was then betrayed by him, it further rattled his sense of reality. The threat of being sent to Doty Road—“you’ll never come back”—was in effect a death threat against David Bates. Small wonder his body continues to throw out symptoms of paralysis.
About twenty detectives took part in torturing people in custody over a period of perhaps nineteen years. Torture included using an electric cattle prod on people’s genitals and bare skin—often in the back of a squad car; attaching electrodes to the ears and to the genitals and running electric currents through them; suffocating people in custody; waterboarding; suspending people by their arms with their feet off the floor; and depriving people of sleep, food, water and toilets.
Because Chicago has permitted only limited investigation into the officers involved, and for many years resisted any investigation into the many reports of torture, it’s impossible to know when the practice began. Dr. Robert Kirschner, former deputy chief medical examiner for Cook County, first realized he was seeing clear signs of torture on a man in custody in 1982. He and others began raising the issue with the Cook County state’s attorney, but got no response.
For many people undergoing torture, a certain dementia sets in: We are brought up to believe that the police and the courts, however flawed, represent justice. When the people we expect to rescue us fail us, when they turn out to be participants in the torture, it creates a shocking and irrecoverable sense of abandonment, of a world turned upside down. People around the world who work with survivors of torture say it is impossible to know how long the aftershocks linger—they can recur decades after the survivor has resumed an ordinary life.
David Bates is a survivor but is understandably angry. The detectives took not just eleven years of his life, but his sense of self. The city paid him a small sum when he was exonerated, while it has spent millions
defending the cops who tortured him.
SARA PARETSKY has been a crusader all her life. Most of her crusading has taken the form of fiction, her incandescent series of seventeen novels about female private investigator V. I. Warshawski. Sara was a founder of Sisters in Crime, the preeminent organization for women crime writers, and served in 2015 as the president of the Mystery Writers of America. She was named a Grand Master, a lifetime achievement award, by the Mystery Writers of America in 2011.
Almost 13 percent of the cases recorded in the National Registry of Exonerations included false confessions as at least part of the basis of conviction. The Innocence Project estimates that as many as 25 percent of the DNA exonerations included coerced false confessions or incriminating statements. (DNA makes up for less than a fourth of all cases overturned following wrongful conviction.) Such coercion may involve physical torture, psychological torture and threats of harsher treatment if the interrogated person fails to “cooperate,” followed by promises that the interrogee can go home.
“‘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.”