Coerced Confession By Restaurant Manager To Stealing A Bank Deposit is Exposed As False After The Lost Deposit Is Found Stuck in A Bank Vault


By Hans Sherrer

Justice Denied Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 12


On March 11, 1999, Robert Farnsworth Jr., a 29-year-old day manager of a Wendy's in Jackson, Michigan, deposited two bags of checks and cash in the night drop of the restaurant's bank. The next day, the bank found only one of the bags in the night deposit vault. The missing deposit bag contained $2,289.20.

When questioned about the missing money, Farnsworth insisted he deposited both bags in the night drop, and said that if the bank found only one bag, then the other bag was still in the machine. Even though Farnsworth was a ten-year employee with an impeccable record, his boss at Wendy's didn't believe his claim and fired him a month after the money disappeared.

Later, while being questioned by the state police, Farnsworth confessed to stealing the money. However, he immediately recanted the confession. He claimed it wasn't true, and that the police had badgered him into falsely confessing.

Farnsworth's claim of innocence was ignored, and he was criminally charged with the theft of the missing money. In July 1999, a jury convicted Farnsworth, relying partly on his recanted confession and partly on bank employees who testified it was “absolutely impossible” for a deposit put into the night drop to be lost. Farnsworth was sentenced to a six-month suspended jail term with three years of probation, and was ordered to repay the missing money.

Although Farnsworth's claim of innocence fell on deaf ears, the got the break he needed happened on December 29, 1999. An $1,825 deposit by a local car wash at the same night drop Farnsworth used could not be found by bank employees. In a repeat of the scenario that had happened to Robert Farnsworth, the car wash owner began to suspect one of his managers that had quit shortly after the deposit was supposedly made had stolen the money. However, knowing the same thing had happened to Robert Farnsworth, the car wash owner suspected there was something wrong with the night deposit drop, even though bank employees insisted it was impossible for a deposit to get lost in it. Not wanting to wrongly accuse the former manager of theft, the car wash owner convinced the bank’s president, a friend of his, to intervene and have the night drop thoroughly inspected. On February 28, 2000, technicians from Diebold took the night deposit vault apart. They found three deposit bags full of cash and checks - the car wash's, the missing deposit Robert Farnsworth had made, and a $2,971 deposit by Rite Aid made on January 8, 2000 that hadn't been reported missing by the company. The bank’s employees had been proven wrong, and what they thought was impossible had happened to Robert Farnsworth’s deposit.

On March 8, 2000, Circuit Judge Charles Nelson, who presided over Farnsworth's trial and sentenced him eight months earlier, ordered that his conviction be set aside, that his police photos, fingerprints, and police file be destroyed, and the restitution and fine he paid be returned. The judge said at the hearing, “It is obvious you didn't do it.” The public recognition that he was innocent was hollow consolation for Farnsworth, who had to declare bankruptcy after going broke paying his legal fees and court ordered payments after being falsely convicted.

Farnsworth is married with two daughters. Since being fired from Wendy's, he works at a factory and struggles to make ends meet, because he is making much less than he did as the restaurant's day manager.


Robert Farnsworth, Jr.


Robert Farnsworth Jr. after his exoneration of stealing a Wendy’s bank deposit that the Michigan State Police coerced him into falsely confessing to stealing.




Talking about his ordeal, Farnsworth said, “I told them and I told them that the deposit bag had to be in that bank, and they did not believe me. Their attitude was that I was guilty and they were going to get me. Everybody turned their backs on me. Everybody believed I took the money.”

Jackson County Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Lady defended his prosecution of Farnsworth by telling reporters it was based on the evidence that was available. This evidence consisted of Farnsworth's recanted confession and the testimony of bank employees that it was “absolutely impossible” for a deposit to be trapped inside the bank's night deposit.

The most remarkable and disturbing aspect of Farnsworth's wrongful conviction is the incontrovertible proof that his confession was false. There is no question that Farnsworth didn't steal the money and was telling the truth. Yet, he confessed to stealing the money after being subjected to questioning techniques routinely used by every law enforcement agency in this country. Referring to her husband's confession after his exoneration, his wife said, “It was their words, not his. They had pressured him into a confession.”

The ease with which Farnsworth was induced to falsely confess is not only an indication of how susceptible to coercion people can be, but is also a real world confirmation of how hollow and ineffective a Miranda warning is to protect the innocent from falsely confessing. An expanding body of research shows this is partly because, with the tacit consent of the Courts, police in the United States are openly flaunting the spirit of the Miranda decision by continuing to question suspects after they assert their right to remain silent and request the presence of a lawyer.

In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court tried to rectify some of Miranda's shortcomings that contribute to false confessions by adopting the Brydges rule (R. vs. Brydges). Under Brydges, the police must immediately provide a suspect with a list of legal aid or lawyers on call 24 hours a day, as well as access to a telephone so they can consult with a lawyer. If, after talking with the lawyer, the suspect asserts his or her right to remain silent or to personally talk with a lawyer, then the police cannot question the person. This is a sensible rule that has proven workable in Canada. Furthermore, it respects the enormous and confusing pressures exerted on the suspect's psyche, which can cloud the ability to make sound decisions about something as important as waiving fundamental rights like remaining silent and consulting a lawyer before talking with the police.

The potent power of standard police questioning techniques to elicit a false confession from an innocent person has rarely been made so evident as in Robert Farnsworth's case. Mr. Farnsworth is an ordinary “Joe” like people we meet every day. In the blink of an eye, he found himself in the extraordinary situation of being treated like a criminal. When confronted by police interrogators, he mentally folded like a house of cards and told them what they wanted to hear.

Robert Farnsworth's case shows that innocent people, perhaps even more than guilty people, are susceptible to police interrogation techniques designed to create a psychological environment conducive to extracting confessions.

The susceptibility of an innocent person such as Robert Farnsworth to making a false confession is even statistically predictable. Professor Richard Ofshe, one of the world's leading experts on false confessions, estimates that 60% of adults randomly selected from the population can be expected to falsely confess to *murder* if subjected to the psychological pressure of normal police questioning techniques. His estimate is conservative when compared to the 70% of American POWs held in China during the Korean War who were induced by psychological techniques to falsely confess to war crimes or otherwise collaborate with the Chinese. The general percentage of between 60% and 70% of "normal" people susceptible to falsely confessing is further supported by Professor Stanley Milgram's experiments at Yale University in the 1960s that demonstrated 67% of Americans are inordinately obedient to authority. It can be considered an act of obedience when someone obeys police inquisitors and falsely confesses to a crime.

Robert Farnsworth's case is a somber warning that innocence is no bar to being browbeaten into falsely confessing to a crime[,] even in the absence of being physically harmed. One can only hope someday courts will recognize how prevalent false confessions are, and that an important step in eliminating them is forcing the police to abandon the use of psychological techniques that provide no way of determining whether a confessor is guilty or innocent.


Conviction of restaurant manager overturned after stolen money found in bank vault, (staff), Detroit Free Press, March 10, 2000.

Bank Finds Lost Cash Stuck in Vault: Ex-Wendy's Manager Convicted of Stealing is Vindicated, (staff), Detroit Free Press, March 13, 2000.

Second missing bag led bank to finding a glitch in machine, Steven Hepker Staff Writer, March 8, 2000, at:

Convicting the Innocent: The Story of a Murder, a False Confession, and the Struggle to Free a “Wrong Man”, edited by Donald S. Connery, Brookline Books, Cambridge, MA, 1996, esp. pp. 97-99, 188.

The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control, John Marks, Times Books, NY, 1979, esp. Chapter 8: Brainwashing, pp. 125-146.

R. vs. Brydges: The Inadequacy of Miranda and a Proposal To Adopt Canada's Rule Calling For The Right To Immediate Free Counsel, Grace F. Ashikawa, Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas, Vol. III, No. 1, 1996, p. 245.

R. v. Brydges, 1 S.C.R. 190 (1990)

Whither Miranda: Is the Supreme Court's review of the case moot, David Cole, American Lawyer Media, March 20, 2000, 2000Mar19.html.

Obedience To Authority, Stanley Milgram, Harper & Row, NY, 1975.