Conley takes stand, details his allegedly false confession

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 8:43:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It was a situation that Christopher Conley testified he had been in before — and it was one he did not want to repeat.

The Northampton man and his family had battled for 18 months to regain custody of their daughter from the state Department of Children and Families in 2009. But in 2015, while she was in the hospital, officials had taken the 7-year-old girl back under suspicion that a corrosive liquid had been injected into her bowels, destroying parts of her intestines and bladder.

So Conley, in what he described on the witness stand Wednesday as a choice made in desperation while his daughter fought for her life, walked into the Northampton Police Station and made a false confession at the suggestion of his then-wife, Julie Conley.

“I felt that it was better for her to have at least one parent rather than no parent,” he said through tears in Hampshire Superior Court. “And if I had to take the fall for something I didn’t do, that’s fine. I would do it for my daughter. I would die a hundred times — a hundred thousand times over for her.”

Prosecutors later questioned Conley about his demeanor in court and during his confession, and about letters he had written family members from jail indicating that he believed his daughter had indeed been poisoned.

Conley’s testimony came the day the defense rested its case in his trial for attempted murder and other charges. He’s accused of injecting Liquid-Plumr into his daughter’s cecostomy tube and then overdosing her on pain medication on April 15, 2015. Doctors later had to remove significant portions of the girl’s intestines and bladder in surgeries.

Conley explained under questioning by his attorney, Mark H. Bluver, of Greenfield, that Julie Conley, who is currently awaiting her own trial on assault and battery charges in connection with her daughter’s injuries, had suggested he make a false confession the day police and child welfare officials informed them that DCF had taken custody of their child. And while he sat in juvenile court that very week, Conley testified, he made the decision to follow her advice.

He said it was Julie Conley’s idea to not only falsely admit to injecting drain cleaner but to falsely admit to overdosing her on pain medications as well. According to Conley, his wife also told him to admit to trying to give his daughter infections from her central line in 2009, though he maintained in court that this never happened.

“I thought she was crazy and I said ‘No,’” Conley told jurors. “But she kept working and telling me why it was a good idea.”

Later, he testified that he and his wife spent days working to build a confession, “trying to figure what to say to make it believable.

“So we were practicing for days. Generally, we would get into my car and drive around and discuss it for hours.”

Conley said that on the day of the alleged poisoning, he spent time with his daughter before going to work when Julie Conley got home.

He said he went to work, and when he came back from lunch, he was told by Julie that the girl had a fever and needed to go to the hospital. He denied ever hurting his daughter in any way.

According to Conley’s testimony, a doctor had told him and his wife that the girl’s injuries had been caused by “something that burns, like lye.”

Based on this, Conley said he and Julie thought of household items similar to lye and chose Liquid-Plumr. Conley said he hadn’t even owned Liquid-Plumr for years.

In the days following a supervised visit with his daughter, Conley said he cashed out his vacation time at work and emptied his 401(k). He signed over $20,711.17 in two checks to his wife and made his confession.

He said he was emotional during his confession because he had no idea of his daughter’s current condition.

Conley said he felt terrible about lying, adding, “I felt black in my soul.”

Conley knew he would be arrested following his statement to police made on May 20, 2015, which was shown in its entirety earlier in the trial. Conley was released two and a half years later, having been jailed in the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction.

“We were hoping that somehow, they would focus on me. And that the DCF would back off of my wife, and that my daughter could go back to her mom. And that way [my daughter] would grow up with one parent,” Conley told jurors about his rationale for giving what he says is a false confession.

He also said he hoped a medical explanation would one day exonerate him.

First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne asked Conley about the statements he made to police, asking him whether statements he made about his family’s health history and the girl’s medical condition were true. Conley explained that some parts of his story were true, parts were embellished and parts were false.

Gagne noted that Conley had cried when he made the confession and had cried in court Wednesday. Conley said he could not cry on demand.

Gagne asked why he didn’t go to trial when DCF took his daughter a second time. Conley told the jury he wasn’t “necessarily thinking clearly.”

“You decided it was better to give up your daughter than to fight for your daughter,” Gagne said.

“It was better to try a Hail Mary to try to get my daughter back to at least one of her parents,” Conley responded.

Gagne then showed Conley letters that he wrote to family while in jail in 2015. In one, Conley wrote to Julie Conley and his family, “Do not blame yourself for what happened, there was no way you could have known.” He had also written letters to family saying he hoped his defense would hire experts for his eventual trial to introduce enough reasonable doubt for an acquittal.

And in another, Conley wrote to his sister that the most likely and “simplest, yet most frightening” explanation for the girl’s injuries was that something was put in her cecostomy tube.

“‘Normally, the simplest explanation is the correct one.’ You wrote that?” Gagne asked, quoting Conley’s letter.

“Yes,” Conley responded.

Also testifying was former Chief Medical Examiner of Rhode Island Dr. Elizabeth Laposata, a forensic pathologist hired by the defense who said she did not believe Conley’s daughter’s injuries were caused by drain cleaner. She agreed with the findings of defense expert Dr. Janice Ophoven that her injuries were due to blood loss but explained further the girl had thrombosis at the time and that blood clots caused the loss of circulation.

Closing arguments are set for Thursday.

Michael Connors can be reached at
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