By Christy Strawser
WYANDOTTE (CBS DETROIT) Countless things have been written about him since his four children met their deaths in the Detroit River 25 years ago, trapped in the car while Lawrence DeLisle and his wife swam to safety.
DeLisle told police a leg cramp and a stuck accelerator forced him to drive into the river; and then he was sentenced to life in prison for one of the most talked-about incidents in Midwest history.
DeLisle remained silent — until now.
Contacted by WWJ morning anchor Roberta Jasina in the cell where he’s been sentenced to live out the rest of his days, DeLisle broke his longtime public silence to proclaim his innocence. The 25th anniversary of that tragic day — and DeLisle’s own words for the first time — are the focus of a special report today on WWJ 950 and CBS Detroit, along with stories from the eyewitness, police, the judge, investigators and attorneys.
What happened that tragic night, which ended with rescue divers pulling up the lifeless bodies of Brian, 8, Melissa, 4, Kadie, 2, and eight-month-old Emily?
DeLisle, now 53, didn’t want to answer questions, he didn’t want to sit for an in-depth interview. But he did want Jasina to know that he was wrongfully convicted, and he says, the media is to blame for his life behind bars. He says he was “unethically crucified by defamatory media reporting.”
He adds he has wanted to “wanted to speak out” many times but was silenced by his court appeals.
Describing himself as a “bereft father,” DeLisle says he doesn’t want to re-live the hell of the night his children died 30 feet underwater. WWJ was unsuccessful in attempts to contact wife Suzanne, who divorced DeLisle after the trial, remarried, and reportedly lives in northern Michigan.
Police say DeLisle, who worked at a local tire shop, confessed to killing them, allegedly to overcome financial pressures and the mundanity of his life as a husband and father. He disputes the confession, and many noted, even at the time, that it happened after a lengthy, exhausting grilling by police. The alleged confession was suppressed from his trial, but five of his jurors said they had learned about it from media reports.
The case was splashed across headlines in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Time Magazine. Local media went into a frenzy, reporting every twist and turn. The public alternately supported the parents and cursed at them outside the courthouse.
Now, DeLisle writes, no matter what he says, he believes no one would fight for his freedom despite the fact he’s a “good, kind and innocent man.”
Was there really something wrong with the car? Did he do it on purpose in a moment of insanity? Was it an attempted suicide? Did he love his wife and children?
And still, the questions remain.
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