First, like most news articles, it is light on the facts that would allow the reader to make any informed decision other than the one the article wants you to draw. They do not tell us what the evidence against Sosa was - eyewitnesses, DNA, or just the confession at issue. We don't know whether the confession was even admissible at trial against him.
Second, the article discusses how Sosa could not even write his initials without instruction, yet he was about to sign off on a plea but then rejected it. The key being HE WAS ABOUT TO SIGN HIS NAME FOR A PLEA. Did he learn to read and write while locked up? He has gone from not knowing how to write the first letters of his name to being able to read and sign legal documents yet it is not discussed.
Third, it would have been an interesting civil trial, had the city lawyer filed the appropriate paperwork. A claim that the police violated Sosa's civil rights by forcing him to sign a confession he couldn't read would be difficult to prove. Even at fourteen, a person should be able to read. Sosa would have to bring in his family and teachers and describe how they had failed him for his entire life by letting him live without learning the most basic skills.
The trial would essentially put the city of Detroit's education system and parental structure on trial. I am certain that Sosa made it through elementary school. Sosa would basically have to put on witnesses to demonstrate his illiteracy and explain how they all let it happen. It is no secret that reading and writing levels in large cities are horribly low. Total illiteracy though? How can we as a society allow this to happen?
Fourth, as JeffO has pointed out, the money is a large amount for a headline, but spread over 40 years it is $27,500 per year before taxes. That's hardly a sum enough to justify spending time in prison as an innocent man.
My first jury trial involved a 25-year-old man who claimed illiteracy. The victim claimed that the defendant shot him twice in the stairwell of an apartment building because the victim got in an argument with the defendant's girlfriend. The gun was recovered a month later inside the girlfriend's apartment. When the defendant was arrested, he spoke to the police. They wanted him to write his own statement, but he said he could not read and write. The police wrote his statement for him, read it to him, and then he signed it. He was able to sign his name. An hour later, the defendant wanted to make another statement. He had some changes to the first one. They went through the same process and the defendant signed it.
At trial, he claimed the detective never read him the statements and he did not know what he was signing. His mother took the stand and described his illiteracy. I only asked the mother whether she read to him and if he understood what she read. She agreed he did.
The problem with the statements was that they both provided a defense to the shooting. Why would the detective, when he could write anything he wanted without the defendant knowing, write two separate statements that contained defenses? If he was fabricating the statements, why wouldn't the detective write the most damaging confession possible?
The evidence in my case was overwhelming and the defendant's version of events did not match the physical evidence. The jury found him guilty.
Illiteracy is an enormous problem in society and also a hurdle police officers must overcome on a daily basis. The Caleb Sosa civil trial would have been a hard look at the education system in America and I would have loved to follow it. Unfortunately, we will not be able to due to a procedural error.