Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Central Park Five

Right now I'm watching a documentary on the Central Park Five, the five young guys (at least some of them juveniles) who were railroaded in the Central Park jogger case. (Yes, this is how I spend my free time. It's not news that I'm a big, nerdy crim law junkie.)

Watching this is making my blood boil. That case was such a travesty. Boys as young as 14 were interrogated for hours, badgered, fed stories until they gave incoherent, inconsistent statements that they didn't even realize were confessions to this horrific, high-profile crime. And after extracting these ridiculous statements, all the police and prosecutors got to run around, high-fiving themselves because they'd solved the case, and so quickly, too! Yay good guys!

Ok, so the confessions are all inconsistent. And so none of them seem to know the where or when or what of the attack. That's not a problem, because we know we got the right guys.

Boy, it's got to make cops feel really good, like they're doing super awesome work to get scared boys between 14 and 16 to confess to this brutal rape and battery. And how easy that will make it to get them all convicted. Woot!

I mean, it's a bit of a concern that all of the DNA of the attack matches some mysterious 6th person who isn't mentioned in any of the confessions. And it's awfully odd that only that mysterious 6th person left any physical signs while the other 5 left nothing.

But no matter because we beat confessions out of those other kids and they all must have just forgotten to mention the main perpetrator.

Oh and then there's this guy who has been raping other women on the east side of New York. Who was spotted having fresh stitches on his face just days after the Central Park jogger case, when we know the jogger scratched her attacker. But somehow it never occurred to any of the police or prosecutors to check that guy's DNA against the unknown DNA from this case.

Because, see, they had the guys. They had confessions.

Somehow it never occurred to prosecutors and police in the city to notice how inconsistent the confessions all were until over a decade later when that other rapist confessed to the crime and his confession was corroborated by DNA tests. Now, they've allowed the convictions of the Central Park Five to be vacated, though many police still insist they were accomplices to the actual rapist.

This case is a tremendous testament to the power of the confession. No matter how inconsistent a confession is to the known facts of a crime, to the confessions of other co-defendants, no matter how utterly incoherent it is. People believe in a confession. Period. Because people just won't, or can't, believe that people ever falsely confess. So it's with this mindset that cops badger and harass and threaten and coerce and hammer away until they get a confession. And then once they get that confession, no other evidence matters.

But, good grief, if you have to work that hard to get a wishy-washy, not-quite-implicating-himself, incoherent mess of a statement that isn't consistent with the facts of the case or the other equally wishy-washy inconsistent mess of statements from the other co-defendants, maybe that "confession" isn't worth the paper it's written on.

The real criminals in this case are the actual rapist and the police detectives who extracted those crap confessions from boys. But those cops will never suffer any consequences. They probably still think they're the good guys who got good statements that led to the right guys. And it makes me absolutely furious.

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