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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, September 27, 2002

Final Thoughts On the Central Park Jogger, Part Two

More thoughts, Part Two: File this under “Best Advocacy Argument Not Actually Presented”. We have seen a lot of back and forth about false confessions, and what might have prompted these five to confess to something they didn’t do. Surely, if the police had picked up five kids at Sunday School and sweated them for two days, they wouldn’t ALL have cracked? Which suggests that there must be some truth to their confessions, and anyway, two juries believed them.

Well, here is my new twist: the police weren’t sweating five kids from Sunday School; they were sweating about thirty kids from the Park. At least some of these kids truly had committed violent crimes that night, and all had good reason to be scared. In that scenario, might, maybe, 20% or so crack and give a false confession? Hmm. Bit of a “weakest link” theory. I apologize, that 20% figure jibes with the “false confession” study, and I consider that to be a potentially misleading coincidence. However, if I were representing these boys, I would make that point loudly and clearly - if you start with a large group of scared kids, a few of them will crack, and that is all it would take for a false conviction.

OK, how about “Best Rebuttal Argument Not Presented”? I may not be an objective judge, but here is my favorite, expressed in a few e-mails to some of my new found friends on the Left: Was this a police frame-up? Pretty lame effort from the boys in blue. A quick trip down to the crime scene, or the lab, by one cop with a few articles of clothing, and this case is OVER. Blood everywhere. Maybe hair, too. Forensic evidence galore. Look, the police thought Steve Lopez was the ringleader (he gets a first-name mention in the confession tapes we saw last night) - why not plant a bit of evidence on the guy you know did it?

OK, that argument wasn’t offered because the “frame-up” argument has sort of died down, as best I can tell. As well it should. I could actually lean towards a Salem Witch trial scenario: the police sincerely, and with good reason, believed that some of these kids were guilty; the psychological pressure of that belief wore some of the kids down. Good faith, bad result.

Last theory, and done: What the heck happened that night? The lead detective thinks Reyes assaulted her after the boys did. Well. How about a theory that explains the lack of blood on the boys, and the coaxing we saw of Kharey Wise to describe the beating as gruesome (in his initial stories, the boys were slapping the victim, but after prodding from the DA, he said a boy picked up a stone to beat her). Here we go: the boys attacked her, but, as Wise initially suggested, not particularly violently. No rocks, no blood. She flees, Reyes takes over, delivers the violent beating that became his trademark, and here we are. Reyes is lying about following the victim into the Park, telling the truth about the rest - impossible?

And who would know the truth? Reyes, probably. Given the psychological power of denial, I wonder if the boys themselves know the truth of that night at this point. The police are clearly committed to their viewpoint. And the rest of us? Well, believe what you want. But as Denzel Washington observes in “Training Day”, “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove”. And, setting aside these confessions, I don’t have the impression that anyone can prove much of anything.

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