Da'ron Cox

The Case:

daroncoxIn November 1996 Brian Roberts pointed an automatic weapon at a police officer and was arrested. He was carrying 34 rocks of crack cocaine. He walked free after telling police the gun and drugs belonged to Roland Cephas.

Mr. Cephas was busted and vowed retaliation.

Ten days later, as Mr. Roberts stood on Sterrett Street in Homewood, a man in a black coat, scull cap and blue jeans shot him twice, chased him into an alley, pumped two more bullets into him, pistol-whipped him and left him to die.

The officer who persuaded Mr. Roberts to snitch told homicide detectives that Mr. Cephas was a likely suspect. No one implicated Da'Ron Cox, 18, or even placed him at the scene.

Fourteen days later, a young man incarcerated at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, in exchange for money and freedom, told police he saw Mr. Cox commit the murder. Police used the statement to extract a confession from the kid known on the streets as "Chicken."

Mr. Cox has said ever since that he didn't kill Mr. Roberts and never confessed. He is serving a life sentence.

The interrogation:

Mr. Cox says he was interrogated from 7 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. without counsel while shackled to the ground. Police recorded only the final few minutes, so there is no record to confirm or refute Mr. Cox's account.

"I kept telling them I was with my girlfriend in Penn Hills and they kept telling me they knew I did it and that they had me red-handed," said Mr. Cox. His girlfriend said she spent Friday nights during that period with Mr. Cox but couldn't remember that specific evening.

City detectives Robert McCabe, now deceased, and Dennis Logan, now an investigator for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, took turns playing good cop, bad cop, Mr. Cox said.

Detective Logan refused to comment.

"They started telling me they knew I wasn't a violent person because they pulled my juvenile record and they knew I never carried a gun so [they told me] it would be real easy to get me off if I confessed," he said.

When Mr. Cox refused to admit the killing, he said, detectives told him they could make this into a "self-defense thing," charging him with manslaughter, which carries a minimum two-year sentence. He decided to cut his losses.

"When you live the lifestyle that I was living you become conditioned to do time. You know you'll eventually go to jail and I was just thinking two years and I'll put it behind me," he said.

From Cynthia Levy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette