By Christy Strawser, CBS Detroit
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) When he was initially contacted by WWJ’s Roberta Jasina to tell his story on the 25th anniversary of the night his four children met a watery death in the Detroit River, Lawrence DeLisle declined to offer any details.
From his prison cell, he wrote Jasina a letter saying basically no one would believe his side of the story anyway so there was no point in telling it.
Then he changed his mind.
DeLisle, 53, issued a shocker when he wrote Jasina another letter, this one a lengthy, detailed account of why he’s, in his words, innocent of the crime of which he was convicted in one of the highest profile cases in Midwest history. She had sent him a list of questions, and he answered every one.
He says, in the first time where he really breaks his silence, he didn’t intentionally kill his children. It was the fault of the car, he says, laying out an elaborate description of the things that he said went wrong with his station wagon that night, and claiming a police cover-up. His claims about the car hold with the story DeLisle told police after his children died — when he said a leg cramp and a stuck accelerator forced him to drive into the river.
See the complete letter HERE, which DeLisle says he wrote after anguishing for weeks about whether he wanted to recall the “painful memories.”
He was sentenced to life in prison after a high-profile trial following the night rescue divers pulled the lifeless bodies of Brian, 8, Melissa, 4, Kadie, 2, and eight-month-old Emily from the Detroit River. DeLisle and his wife had swum to safety.
A confession was allegedly made to police after a long interrogation; many disputed it was an actual confession and it was tossed out by the judge before trial. The media had already reported on it extensively, and several jurors said they knew about it before they served in his trial.
Now, DeLisle says emphatically he’s innocent. Who does he blame for his conviction? “The post-traumatic stress of losing my children allowed everything to spiral out of control,” he writes.
DeLisle adds that he’s getting through his time in jail “with the love and support of family and friends,” saying he’s made hundreds of friends in his time behind bars.
In the process of his long, well-reasoned, obviously time consuming letter where he answers every one of Jasina’s questions, DeLisle reveals some details about those family and friends that many have wondered about for years.
His wife, Sue, initially supported DeLisle, siding with his tale of the faulty car. Then she seemed to disappear from public view. What happened? “I could see Sue’s pain in her eyes during every visit and for each appeals process,” DeLisle explains in his letter. “Because I love her, I insisted she leave — she reluctantly did years later.”
They’ve been divorced nearly two decades, he adds, saying they’re no longer in contact because “our children looked too much like their father, which would be a constant daily reminder of the love we once shared.”
Throughout the letter, DeLisle claims innocence, and he does issue a statement to the people of metro Detroit, many of whom were riveted to trial coverage 25 years ago.
DeLisle comes out swinging in his own defense, writing, “I can’t swim and have a fear of deep water so the so-called lie detector test was a ruse perpetrated by police in order to instill ‘guilt by accusation’ … At trial, the state’s expert mechanic was primarily a bus inspector who couldn’t even start our vehicle for testing…”
He goes on to blame the state police, saying the arresting officer wrote “accelerator sticking” on the top of his note pad during a test ride with police and then “swore under oath he had no idea why he wrote that.” Those claims have been refuted by police and prosecutors many times, including in the in-depth report WWJ produced about the 25th anniversary of that tragic day. Jasina interviewed, for her special report on WWJ 950 and CBS Detroit, eyewitness, police, the judge, investigators and attorneys.
DeLisle says at one point Barbara Walters wanted to interview him, but the Michigan Department of Corrections wouldn’t allow it.
Fundamentally, what everyone wants to know then and now is — did he do it? And if so, why? This is as far as DeLisle will go in his discussion.
“I”ve always been hypercritical of myself, which is why I’ve always accepted responsibility for the accident, because that’s what it is — a tragic accident! I am a good and kind man who has always – always tried to be the best man, husband and father I could be.
“I’ve spent nearly half of my life wrongfully imprisoned. But you don’t know me, just like you don’t know the whole truth or I wouldn’t be here today.”
And he takes the opportunity of rare media interaction to give a message to the people who “rescued my wife and I that night, and to those who desperately tried to save our children.”
“You are forever in our hearts and prayers,” he writes. “Thank you and God bless.”
- The Story Of Lawrence DeLisle And That Deadly Night His Children Drowned In The Detroit River
- ‘Nosey’ Neighbor Who Witnessed DeLisle Crash Can’t Forget The Sight Of Little Boy’s Knees, Limp, In The Arms Of A Diver
- Veteran Investigator Says Questions Remain About Fairness Of Trial, Says DeLisle Should Go Free
- Cop Recalls Devastating Night DeLisle’s Children Drowned
- Defense Attorney: Police Gave DeLisle Nervous Breakdown, Forced A False Confession
- Roberta Jasina On The DeLisle Case 25 Years Later: Did The Jury Get It Right?
- AP Report From Aug. 1, 1990: DeLisle Gets Five Life Terms In Drownings Of His Children