In August 1999, in Choctaw County, Alabama, 27-year-old Medell Banks, Jr. was arrested and later indicted on capital murder charges for allegedly killing an infant born to his estranged wife in June 1999. Although Banks’s wife, Victoria, had a tubal ligation in 1995, she had earlier claimed to be pregnant while in jail in order to obtain bond. The sheriff became suspicious several months later when she said that she had miscarried, and suspected the baby had been born and murdered. Victoria, her sister, and Banks were all brought in for questioning. Each of the three was subject to days of aggressive interrogation with breaks only for sleep and without the presence of an attorney. All three had IQs in the mentally retarded range and were facing the death penalty. Eventually, Victoria and her sister admitted that a baby was born and implicated Banks in the murder. Banks also eventually made statements indicating that a baby may have been born and buried near his home. Banks later recanted his confession. Victoria accepted a deal for a plea to manslaughter in exchange for testifying that she had borne a baby. In May 2001, Banks entered a plea to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years, although he maintained his innocence.
An appeals court granted Banks’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in August 2002, and awarded him a new trial. The state had maintained that Victoria’s earlier tubal ligation had been unsuccessful and she was rendered sterile as a result of an infection after the baby was born. However, testing confirmed that her tubes were still blocked, and the results were consistent with a tubal ligation, rather than an infection.
Investigators admitted that they had lied to Banks, and that the interrogation was aggressive. This testimony, combined with the physical tests obtained by Banks’s attorneys, convinced the prosecution to drop the charges. On January 10, 2003 (in exchange for a misdemeanor plea to a charge of tampering with some unspecified physical evidence) the prosecution dismissed the capital murder charges.
- Stephanie Denzel