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If Travis Wright had the benefit of a taped confession, there would be no need for a defense attorney, according to Hartford, Conn.’s Joseph Moniz, who said his 18-year-old mentally impaired client shouldn’t become another victim of police coercion in the state. Moniz, of Moniz, Cooper & McGan, spent most of last week in Stamford, Conn., trying to defend Wright at the start of his murder trial, after his motion to suppress Wright’s confession was recently denied. Moniz said Wright — who has a full-scale IQ of 59 and a Performance IQ of 49, based on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children — only confessed to murder after 12 straight hours of police interrogation and wanting to please the investigators who were questioning him. A tape of the episode, the defense believes, might serve as evidence that police coerced Wright into a confession. “I feel confident he didn’t do it,” Moniz said. “But you don’t know whether they (the police) suggested he did it … you don’t know all of the things you need to know.” On the night of June 25, 1999, Wright, who was 17 and a student at Stamford’s West Hill High School at the time, confessed to the murder of Wiestow Tarnowski, a man who had been stabbed to death on April 11. In June, Wright had been with a group of friends when they knocked down and robbed a man named Alejandro Pagan, only to be spotted by a police officer. Wright later stopped for the officer as his friends fled the scene. While en route to the police state, the officer asked Wright about his involvement in the robbery of Pagan. Wright responded, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Also according to the motion filed by Moniz, Wright was subsequently asked, during his booking, if he had knowledge of any other previous robberies in the South End. He responded, “What are you going to do for me?” regarding the robbery he was allegedly involved in that evening. When police told Wright they would talk to the prosecutors on his behalf, Wright told the police several different versions of how Tarnowski may have died, including that he had heard a story from a girl about the homicide. He soon recanted and told police he was at the scene when a friend killed Tarnowski. Wright could not, however, draw a diagram of the crime scene because he did not know the name of certain streets and later admitted that he had made up both stories to “get consideration for the robbery.” Wright broke down in tears when told he was going to be put back in his cell, and he offered yet another version of how Tarnowski was killed — this time stating that he stabbed the man in self defense. Because Wright could not describe the crime scene, he drove with the investigating officers and tried to show them the route he took during the alleged crime, directing them to Pulaski Bridge where he claimed to have thrown the murder weapon into the water. He later recanted that story as well. Several hours after the drive, Wright was asked to sign a statement regarding his “confession,” a move which Moniz argued was nothing more than coercion. “He didn’t understand,” Moniz said of his client’s incapability to fully comprehend what he was signing. “Why would someone sign such a statement and then ask to go home? If you look at [Wright's] confession and the crime itself, it doesn’t match up.” Moniz said his client still does not understand the gravity of his situation or why he is on trial, and that he has asked more than once “to go home.” He added that children with low IQ’s tend to be submissive, crave adult attention, and try overly hard to cooperate with authority figures, and that Wright has a history of breaking down when confronted with difficult tasks. Moniz further argued that Wright was not properly advised of his Miranda rights. He also blamed police for not properly investigating the case; he said they did not look into other probable suspects, including questionable relatives of the victim, and he chastised the police for losing a pertinent police report in the case. Moniz said he also planned on casting doubt as to the victim’s actual time of death, which he says he believes was much later than stated in police reports. “What troubles us most is that the police believe that the (murderer) was someone of color,” Moniz said of Wright, who is black. “And that is who they are going after.” The case echoes those of defendants such as Richard LaPointe, who is serving time for allegedly killing his mother-in-law and who, many believe, was coerced into a confession. In addition, Peter Reilly, who was acquitted on charges of killing his mother, won his freedom only after a grand jury found that police had coerced his confession by reviewing the taped testimony. Those cases, along with numerous others, prompted proposed Connecticut state legislation mandating audio or videotaping of interrogations. The bill was turned down by lawmakers last year. Richard Perske, an avid supporter of LaPointe and other mentally challenged individuals, said he agreed with Moniz’ theories. “I am convinced that Wright was coerced into confessing,” Perske said.

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