The crime that Byron Halsey was convicted of committing was unspeakable, beyond horrifying. Two children were murdered. A seven-year-old girl was raped and strangled in the basement of the Plainfield, New Jersey, apartment building where she lived with her mom. Her eight-year-old brother was brutally murdered, four nails hammered into his skull with a brick after he was tortured with scissors and sexually assaulted.
The cops said that Byron Halsey was the monster who confessed to these inhuman crimes. He was 24 in 1985, the time of the murders, he suffered from a mild mental disability and had only a sixth-grade education. His girlfriend was the mother of the two murdered children, Tyrone and Tina Urquhart, and Halsey considered them his own.
But in 2007, DNA evidence proved conclusively that Halsey was not Tina’s rapist. The investigation was reopened and finally came to the conclusion that Byron Halsey was not linked to the crime by even a single shred of evidence.
Instead the evidence pointed to Clifford Hall, a convicted sex offender who lived next door.
After 22 years behind bars — almost as long as he had been alive when he went to prison — Byron Halsey was freed.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Byron Halsey can sue the cops who railroaded him. A lower court earlier held that the police were immune from lawsuits, even though they trumped-up Halsey’s confession, adding facts that Halsey could not have known unless he was the real killer — which he clearly was not.
In fact, the real killer was Clifford Hall, who when questioned by the police during the original investigation asked them if he was “going to be locked up.”
But for some reason, the police dismissed Hall — who unfortunately died in jail in 2009 before he could face justice — as a suspect. They focused everything on Byron Halsey. They convicted him based on the phony confession. He was sent to prison for two life sentences plus 20 years.
The only reason he avoided the death penalty — which New Jersey has not administered since 1963 — was that he was not convicted of “purposeful and knowing” murder.
Halsey says that throughout most of his prolonged questioning session, he maintained his innocence. But police lied to him, saying that he failed a lie detector test which in fact he passed without a hitch, and that other witnesses contradicted his alibi.
As the questioning went on, Halsey began crying uncontrollably and, as one of the investigators put it, “went into some form of trance.” He signed a statement that the cops wrote for him.
“We believe that no sensible concept of ordered liberty is consistent with law enforcement cooking up its own evidence,” wrote judge Morton Greenberg, announcing the court’s decision that Byron Halsey can now see payback for those lost 22 years through a civil lawsuit. “A police officer who fabricates evidence against a criminal defendant to obtain his conviction violates the defendant’s constitutional right to due process of law.”