“Guilty Until Proven Innocent”: On False Confession and Wrongful Conviction
(Sat. October 14, 2023: Minor Memorial Library, Roxbury, CT. Free & open to public.) Sponsored by the Arthur Miller Writing Studio and the Arthur Miller Society in celebration of Arthur Miller’s birthday, this far-ranging panel discussion event focused on criminal justice reform in Connecticut and the challenges of exonerating the innocent. [Event flyer. Press release.]
Learn firsthand about criminal justice reform in Connecticut.
Fall 2023 marks 50 years since Falls Village, CT, teenager Peter Reilly’s murder arrest and coerced false confession. This panel discussion event will examine Arthur Miller’s support of Reilly’s defense in the 1970s and will explore the contemporary experience of New Haven resident and author Gaylord Salters. The panelists include: advocates Peter Reilly and Gaylord Salters, attorneys Peter Herbst and Alex Taubes, and CT ACLU’s Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman, who will share resources for protecting your rights if stopped by police and will highlight Connecticut’s newly enacted Act Concerning Deceptive or Coercive Interrogation Tactics, with its enhanced protections for minors. Actor Jack Gilpin will read from Miller’s published and unpublished works. Illustrator Marc Simont’s 1970s courtroom sketches will be on exhibit. Reception with hospitality to follow.
This event is supported by a grant from CT Humanities.
Peter Reilly is a Connecticut resident and social activist. Fifty years ago, when he was eighteen, he was accused of the brutal murder of his mother, Barbara Gibbons. He was interrogated by police for hours, coerced to confess, and convicted in a 1974 trial. Over two years later, with the efforts of his community and the intervention of Arthur Miller and William Styron, he was exonerated. Since then, Reilly has been an advocate for reform of police interrogation methods, especially of young people. His efforts help the passage of CT State Bill 1071, which limits the use as evidence of any admission, confession, or statement made by a person during a custodial interrogation by a law enforcement agency official, if that official engaged in deception or coercive tactics during the interrogation. “An Obvious Reform, Fifty Years in the Making” by Peter Reilly, CT Post, March 16, 2023.
Gaylord Salters is a New Haven resident who spent over 20 years in prison due to prosecutorial misconduct. Since his release last July (2022), Salters has been advocating to overturn his conviction and raise awareness about the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the city. He was one of the main organizers of the “7 Days of Truth with Proof” rally series. He also has growing writing and publishing career that he started when he was still incarcerated. Salters wrote his first novel, Money, Murder, and Drug Flow, in 2006, illustrating life in the drug trade. His second novel, Momma Bear, centers around a woman inspired by his own mother, Gloria Johnson. Explore these books and more at: https://gogetitpublishing.com.
Peter Herbst is an attorney practicing in Torrington focusing on Land Use, Zoning, and Real Property. He served on the legal team during Peter Reilly’s first trial; it was his first criminal trial after passing the bar. In the ensuing years, he and Peter Reilly have spoken at many high schools about the case and the way the police handled it.
Alex Taubes is a civil rights lawyer in New Haven. He specializes in gaining compensation for people harmed as a result of corporate or government negligence in lawsuits and class actions. He also has filed motions reducing the prison sentences of dozens of prisoners, taking more than 951 years off prison sentences to allow for early releases, including Gaylord Salters, Jr. He has represented non-governmental organizations, elected officials, unions, and individuals struggling for social, economic, environmental, and racial justice.
Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman, of Sandy Hook, is an SEIU Labor Organizer, educator, and political activist. Eva was the youngest plaintiff for the landmark school desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill and volunteered for Presidential candidate Al Gore when she was twelve years old, sparking a lifetime commitment to organizing and activism. Eva was a Newtown Councilwoman and was awarded Latina of the Year by LPRAC of the Connecticut State Legislature for her role as an Assister in Connecticut Access Health Exchange, where she enrolled 7,000 people during the first two years of the Affordable Care Act. She also served as the first Latina Secretary for the State Democratic Party and is most recently recognized for acquiring 40% in the Democratic Primary for Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut.
Stephen Marino is the founding editor of The Arthur Miller Journal and past president of the Arthur Miller Society. He taught at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. He is the author of A Language Study of Arthur Miller’s Plays: The Poetic in the Colloquial and Essential Criticism, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. His essay collections include Arthur Miller’s Century, Essays Celebrating the 100th Birthday of America’s Great Playwright (2017) and Arthur Miller for the Twenty-First Century, Contemporary Views of His Writings and Ideas (2020). His most recent work is the Methuen Student Edition of Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays (2022). He has completed the manuscript for his upcoming book, Arthur Miller’s New York: The Playwright’s Vision of the City.
Sarah Griswold, Independent Museum Consultant, AMWS board president, is a consultant for small and mid-sized history museums, historical societies, libraries with historical collections, and other non-profit organizations. She works primarily in board development and strategic planning. In addition, she works with organizations and organizational communities in developing their capabilities through improving communications and structure. She has worked as museum curator, historic house executive director, researcher and program manager. She has led workshops in aspects of museum exhibits and management. She has led visioning, planning, and governance workshops. She has served as a mentor to nine organizations as part of the Steps-CT programs and has been a peer reviewer and advisor for both the Museum Assessment Program and Connecticut Peer Advisor Network (PAN). She also serves on the boards of the The Institute for American Indian Studies and the Freeman Center for History and Community.
Jane K. Dominik, current President of the Arthur Miller Society, has written on Miller’s work for more than thirty years. Her publications and numerous conference papers include commentaries on The Price and The American Clock published by Methuen, and essays and reviews in collections edited by other Miller scholars, the Arthur Miller Journal, and its precursor, the Arthur Miller Newsletter, which she founded. Her research has focused on the staging of his plays, music, women characters, creative assignments, and the critical reception of his work. She has also performed scenes from Miller’s plays and the role of Linda in Death of a Salesman.
Jack Gilpin has lived in Roxbury for 28 years, where he and his wife Annie raised their three children; 50 years ago this past June he received his first paycheck as a professional actor; and 12 years ago this coming December he was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, serving as the Rector of St. John’s, New Milford until his retirement in 2020.
Marc Simont was born in Paris to Catalan parents. As his family moved frequently, he attended schools in Paris, Barcelona, and New York. Though he later attended art schools, he considered his father his greatest teacher. He became an acclaimed author and illustrator “whose work, embodying both airy lightness and crackling energy, graced some of the foremost titles in children’s literature[….] Over more than half a century, he illustrated nearly 100 books, including about dozen titles he wrote himself” [NYT]. His illustrations for Janice May Udry‘s A Tree is Nice won the Caldecott Medal in 1957, and his own book A Stray Dog was awarded Caldecott Honors in 2001. In 2008 his political cartoons were honored with the Hunter College James Aronson Award for “Cartooning With A Conscience.” He and his wife Sara (“Bee”) bought a house in Cornwall, Connecticut in 1951, where he also had his studio. Speaking in 2005 for a retrospective exhibit of his courtroom sketches of Peter Reilly’s trial, he said: “The Peter Reilly case touched us all.”
The Arthur Miller Writing Studio organization and the Arthur Miller Society wish to thank: head librarian Teresa Roxburgh and the Minor Memorial Library; (the late) Don Connery (Guilty Until Proven Innocent, 1977); Stuart Daly; Kayla Vinson, Yale’s Law and Racial Justice Center; and Doc Simont.
- ACLU of Connecticut
- ACLU resources: Know Your Rights: Stopped by Police
- CT State Bill No. 1071: An Act Concerning Deceptive or Coercive Interrogation Tactics: CT 1071 Bill; CT Judiciary Committee Summary; CT ACLU Testimony
- “ ‘Facing Life’ Explores Life Imprisonment and Racial Injustice in Two States.” Gaylord Salters and Alex Taubes participate in the panel: “Mass Incarceration, Racial Injustice, and Opportunities for Relief” at Yale’s Law and Racial Justice Center, June, 2023.
- “A CT mother murdered, a son wrongly accused and a 50-year legacy” by Saul Kassin, Hartford Courant, Sunday September 24, 2023.
- “Exonerated but in the Dark: Police Keep Files Closed” New York Times, January 23, 2004
- “Peter Reilly Speaks at a Forum In Salisbury; Case Still Haunts” by Kathryn Boughton, CT Insider, Sept. 14, 2005, on panel with illustrator Marc Simont, journalist Don Connery, and Robert Estabrook, publisher emeritus of The Lakeville Journal.
- Archives: “New Witness Found in 1973 Reilly Case” New York Times, January 19, 1979
“Luck and the Death Penalty” by Arthur Miller (written in 2002 to support the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern’s law school’s work to abolish the death penalty in Illinois). Published in New York Times and Anatomy of Innocence in 2017.
- Books on display (from the personal collection of Peter Reilly):
- Guilty Until Proven Innocent by Donald Connery, 1977.
- A Death In Canaan, by Joan Barthel, with introduction by William Styron, 1976.
- Timebends: A Life by Arthur Miller, 1987.
- Echoes Down the Corridor by Arthur Miller, edited by Steven Centola, 2001.
- Duped: Why Innocent People Confess – and Why We Believe Their Confessions
by Saul Kassin, 2022.
- Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger, 2017.
- Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon L. Garrett, 2012.
- A Criminal Injustice: A True Crime, a False Confession, and the Fight to Free Marty Tankleff, by Richard Firstman, Jay Salpeter, 2008.
- A Murder in Our Town by Arthur Herzog, 2004.
- Police Experiences with Recording Custodial Interrogations by Thomas Sullivan
#1, Summer 2004. A Special Report by Northwestern University School of Law
Center on Wrongful Convictions.
- Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer, 2000.
- Not Guilty by George Sullivan (Scholastic Biography series), 1997.
- In Spite of Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases by Michael Radelet, Hugo Adam Bedau, Constance Putnam, 1992.
- The Inner Source: Exploring Hypnosis with Dr. Herbert Spiegel and Donald S. Connery, 1982.
- Autopsy: The Memoirs of Milton Helpern, the World’s Greatest Medical Detective, 1977.
- A Great Fall by Mildred Savage, 1970.
|The 1976 courtroom sketches below by Marc Simont were made during Peter Reilly’s hearing for a second trial; the artist described his work at Salisbury Forum in 2005: