I read an article today about an allegedly guilt-riddled drunk driver who used social media to confess to a DUI crime that killed an innocent victim. The story and most of the comments lauded this man as a hero who came forward to declare his guilt, even though he could have easily avoided a criminal conviction. The referenced YouTube video was entitled “I killed a man” with the words “because I said I would” directly underneath. I was momentarily perplexed until I realized that the phrase referred to a third party website that published the video. It made me wonder - was this a bona fide act of contrition or another creative viral marketing hoax masquerading as a human interest story?
The Confession of a Deadly DUI
Most of the news articles I read were scant on details and I expected to see a short, amateur webcam confession. I was surprised to find a professionally produced and scripted product. The video begins in total darkness with a male voice saying “I killed a man.” A pixelated face appears who explains that he drinks alcohol to escape his depression. He admits to alcohol impaired driving which resulted in the death of Vincent Canzani of Columbus, Ohio on June 22. He then speaks about lawyers: “… I consulted some high powered attorneys who told me stories about similar cases where the drivers got off. They were convinced that they could get my blood tests thrown out and all I had to do was lie. Well, I won’t go down that path.”
Suddenly the face of the speaker becomes clear. Cue the uplifting background music. The man identifies himself as Matthew Cordle and states that the video will act as his confession to the crime. He holds up a branded card which states that he will take full responsibility for his drunk driving (“because I said I would.”) He informs viewers of his plan to plead guilty to criminal charges. While the video pans to a scar on Cordle’s arm and “pledge cards” in his hand, he insists that he will give the prosecution what they need to put him away “for a very long time.” Cordle states that the purpose of recording the video was to send a public message not to engage in drunk driving. He ends with a “so please” which tails off to allow a dark screen to appear with the phrase “make the promise not to drink and drive” followed by the URL of the becauseisaidiwould.com website. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was seeing a real life confession or a slick advertising awareness campaign for a drunk driving prevention group.
Origin of the Video Confession
I found it unusual that a third party would deliberately interject itself into a criminal DUI case at such an early stage, especially when it involved death. So I decided to learn more about becauseisaidiwould.com from its website. Founder Alex Sheen says that his pending 501(c)(3) company is “a social movement dedicated to bettering humanity through the power of a promise”. They send out branded “promise cards to anywhere in the world at no cost” which are intended to be used so that promises can be published on social media outlets.
Sheen explains that Matthew Cordle contacted him on Facebook less than four weeks ago. His plea for help stood out from the thousands he claims to receive each month:
I understand that releasing this controversial video that may change the way you think about because I said I would. I know that everyone will not agree with my decision to get involved. I decided to help because the man who is sitting in this chair has something to say that I believe you should hear…
Maybe Matthew would have been found guilty either way…but maybe not. Against all legal advice, Matthew decided to make this video and release it prior to any charges being filed against him. His goal is to raise awareness about the terrible consequences that drunk driving can have on innocent people.
I was left with more questions than I had before. If Cordle had a webcam and a YouTube account, why didn’t he publish a drunk driving confession himself and avoid the hoopla? If expert legal advice from criminal attorneys recommended not publishing the video, why didn’t Sheen simply decline the opportunity? Why didn’t Cordle speak directly to the police or the district attorney and release a drunk driving video at a more appropriate time? Was Cordle represented by a lawyer? Is anyone being compensated? I decided to search for more facts about this case.
An Honest or Calculated Confession?
Several news sources cited Franklin County prosecutor, Ron O'Brien, reporting that a blood sample was taken from Matthew Cordle after the accident. Cordle tested positive for alcohol and was a criminal suspect - apparently long before this video confession was created. Was the law closing in on an imminent arrest? After the video was released Cordle's lawyer, George Breitmayer III, was quoted as saying that it "is a strong testament" to Cordle's character and that they intend to cooperate with prosecutors.
We live in a social media based world where self-promotion has become a current obsession. Several articles suggest that Cordle is an attention seeking narcissist. A body language expert suggests that Cordle's facial expressions indicate a lack of sincerity. Some suspect this to be calculated stunt, hoping that public sympathy garnered from social media will leverage a lenient and merciful sentence.
I won’t speculate as to Cordle’s motives. But I suspect that the prosecutor will investigate the veracity of this highly promoted and professionally produced confession. I would not be surprised if subpoenas are sent to Facebook and Alex Sheen to obtain electronic evidence related to the help that Matthew Cordle allegedly sought. As Sheen doesn’t appear to be an ordained minister or a licensed psychologist, any communications would not be legally considered privileged and confidential information protected under the priest-penitent or doctor-patient privilege.
Criminal Sentencing and Beyond
My heart goes out to the grieving Canzani family, whom are almost forgotten as a result of the excessive hype generated from this event. The district attorney stated that he will seek aggravated vehicular homicide charges, which carry a maximum of eight years in prison. I’m very interested in seeing whether Matthew Cordle will keep his promise and “take full responsibility” for what he’s done by insisting that the prosecutor put him away “for a very long time."
- Legal Practice:
- Crime - DUI & DWI