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“I Did It”

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Is it difficult being back here? “No,” Sterling says. “I enjoyed growing up here.” The creek is where he liked to fish for salmon. The train trestle is where kids liked to drink and where Frank walked his dogs Outlaw and Shebia. For a time, he says, he considered Vi Manville a friendly presence on the tracks. “She’d reach into her pocket and give the dogs a cookie.”

When Crough and his partner first came to Sterling’s house in 1991, he says, “they claimed they were looking at others. But I have a feeling they were focused on, ‘Okay, we’ll make it look like we’re looking into others, but he’s the one who probably did it for revenge.’ ” He agreed to the polygraph, he says, “because I didn’t do it. I thought, Okay, well, I’ve got nothing to hide, so I should pass with flying colors.

So why did he confess? “They just wore me down,” he says, shaking his head. “I was just so tired. Remember, I hadn’t had any sleep since about 2:30 Tuesday night.”

He tries to explain what it was like to spar with the police for twelve hours.

“It’s like, ‘Come on, guys, I’m tired—what do you want me to do, just confess to it?’

‘No, we want the truth.’

‘Well you’re not fucking listening to the truth, I’m telling you. What more do you want me to say?’

‘We want to know what happened.’ ”

Sterling says the police never asked him to say in his own words what happened. “ ‘Yes’ and grunts—that’s basically what the whole confession is about.” Regarding the color of Manville’s coat, he says, “I knew in the fall she always wore her purple jacket.”

I ask him what he thinks when he watches the twenty-minute confession video now. “When you look, you’ll notice I shake a little bit,” he says. “But to hold on to the whole cigarette and let the whole cigarette go to ash and never take a drag off of it? I’m a smoker. Normally, I would be sitting there dragging on it, not letting the whole cigarette just sit there burning down. Yeah, I was not in the right mind, looking back at it now.”

He knows some people will never understand why he admitted to a crime he didn’t commit. “They say, ‘Why confess if you didn’t do it?’ But they don’t have the whole understanding of what I was going through at the time. It’s like, yeah—I wanted to get it over with, get home, and get some sleep.”

He laughs softly. “Eighteen years and nine months later, I finally get to go home.”


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