Just One Minute
Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, September 27, 2002

Final Thoughts on the Central Park Jogger

Final thoughts? Yes, and I had my last drink last Saturday night, and my diet begins tomorrow. Anyway, unless discussion really heats up again, I would like to make the following points, which I divide into two posts, and move on. This first bit is inspired by some discussions I have had with the good people at Talk Left. This is not meant to suggest that they endorse these views, but rather to acknowledge their gracious attempts to encourage me to explain my thinking.

The blogosphere, reflecting the mass-media, divided into two camps, which I will call the “Exonerate now!” group, and the “Not so fast” gang. Gang of two, as best I know, because only Max Power and I were in it originally. Let’s check the Village Voice on Sept. 9 to see where this discussion started:

“In what is shaping up as potentially one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in New York history, lawyers are pushing to overturn the verdicts in the infamous Central Park jogger rape attack. This latest blow to the city criminal justice system's reputation results from the confession of a convicted murderer-rapist that he alone committed the crime and confirmed DNA evidence supporting his claim.”

Factually defensible, but misleading. The confirmed DNA evidence supports his claim that he raped the victim; it does not confirm the assertion that he acted alone.

This piece triggered an extended discussion of the implications of this case for our criminal justice system, and I have a lot of links here. However, on Sept 15, my very own “Not so fast” viewpoint emerged. My points:

-- given the many violent assaults in the Park that night, the police were acting reasonably in suspecting these five youths.

-- The DNA evidence was, by itself, neither new nor exculpatory: the fact of non-matching DNA had been brought out at the trial. The theory was that not all of the participants in the assault had been captured. Reyes emergence years simply means that he is the missing rapist.

-- What is new is the statement by Reyes that he followed the woman into the Park, raped her alone, and left her for dead. It is worth noting that Reyes is serving 33 year to life for three other rapes and a murder and that the statute of limitations has expired on this crime, so he has nothing to lose by lying.

Now, we know from the DNA that he is not lying about raping her. Did Reyes simply fall in with the other youths (Reyes was 18 at the time) and join in the assault? Or, perhaps he didn’t follow her into the Park - maybe he assaulted her after the other gang had finished with her. Or, having raped her, did he truly beat her so badly that she was left for dead, or did she recover, stagger to her feet, and then get attacked again by the youths? I do not claim to know the answers, but I am convinced that these are questions that deserve investigation.

So, the “not so fast” position was - there are serious questions here, let’s wait and see what facts can be developed. I, at least, have been quite clearly agnostic as to the actual guilt or innocence of the five youths, as noted in the Blogger archives currently bewond reach. Hmmph.

Now, I was impressed by the scope, balance, and fairness of the ABC News report. I am not asking people who believe that the boys are innocent to change their minds. However, I am steadfast in my belief that, having seen that report, or reading the summary, no reasonable person could honestly say that this case is open and shut. I would describe the view that it is open and shut as advocacy rather than analysis, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is little to rebut.

So, some stray thoughts: why, one wonders, do people cling to the advocacy position? Well, there is nothing wrong with advocacy, and, if that is your goal, letting facts interfere with a good story is silly. Beyond that, however, I wonder whether some folks are forming the following ‘logical” chain: “I believe our criminal justice system is deeply flawed”; “the Central Park Jogger case is a great injustice which supports my belief”.

My unsubstantiated speculation is that some folks are concerned that the chain can unravel backwards: “IF the Central Park Jogger case is not an example of a great injustice, THEN some might conclude that our criminal justice system is NOT deeply flawed". Clearly that conclusion does not follow. I am not asking anyone to change their worldview about the fairness of our criminal justice system; I have been asking, and continue to ask, that we defer including the Central Park case among the litany of horror stories until we have established the facts.

UPDATE: Talk Left sends us to A Burst of Light, who has this story from Reyes' former attorney. OK, Reyes did punch the attorney in the face in court, but does that mean he is a "psychopath"?

UPDATE 2: Very interesting piece in the NY Times. We have heard of "false confessions" and "true confessions". How about "over-confessing" - a person guilty of some crimes admits to those, and more. Some NYC investigators think that may have happened here. The story itself is featured prominently at the top of Section B-1 (the Metro section), and inspires yet another theory, which I guarantee you have not heard before:

The five confessions differed on important details. Suppose two confessions are accurate, and three represent "over-confessions" - scared kids, guilty of other things, confess to this as well. Maybe the group of assailants was five, including two properly convicted and three never identified. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But no maybe about this: unless the City can produce a videotape of Al Sharpton handing Matias Reyes a check, the judge is going to vacate these five convictions. Since the five have already done their time, it would be an insult to a jury and a waste of the DA's time to try them again. And people will be left believing what they want to believe, based on few facts and lots of suppostion.

Comments: Post a Comment