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Monday, October 07, 2002

Back to the Central Park Jogger

Jim Dwyer of the NY Times deserves major plaudits for his work on this case. He continues to dig up astonishing new information, as shown in the Saturday Times.

The soundbite is, perhaps as a sign of good writing, is right there in the opening paragraph. Hmm, I should remember that trick:

"The man who has claimed sole responsibility for the rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park in 1989 has also told investigators that he committed an identical crime two days earlier in the same area of the park. The man, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, maintains that he acted entirely by himself in both attacks."

Well, if you have been following the case, you know that this calls into question the "good faith" of the Police investigation. Up until now, apologists for the NYPD and the DA could argue, look, it is possible, after the fact, that the five kids who were convicted of these crimes on the strength of their confessions were, in fact, not gulty of this. However, since three other people were also beaten by a gang of youths that night, it was not unreasonable for the police to suspect them in this beating as well. General lesson for the rest of us: if you commit three assaults, don't confess to four.

Now, we learn that the cops knew about a rapist operating in the same area of Central Park. Mr. Dwyer describes it as an "identical crime" - we learn later that the victim was beaten about the head so severely that she was hospitalized for at least two nights.

In what we can only describe as an uncharacteristic understatement, a defense attorney for one of the boys said this:

""No law enforcement officer gave us any information that there was a prior crime connected to our case, or might have been connected to it," said Michael P. Joseph, who represented Antron McCray. "It would have been helpful."

Yes, I imagine it would have been. Did the police handling the Central Park Jogger case know about this other rape:

"For reasons that are not clear, investigators say, there is no sign that the information about the April 17 rape was turned over to the detectives handling the attack on the jogger."

Inconceivable? Well, Mr. Dwyer offers this bit of bureaucratic cover-up:

"Those two rapes, on April 17 and April 19, were the second and third of the year in the Central Park precinct. The investigation into the April 17 attack was handled by the sex crimes unit of the Police Department. Detectives from another unit, Manhattan North Homicide, oversaw the investigation into the attack on the jogger, because her condition was so grave that officials originally expected that she would not survive."

Well, that covers it. The Sex Cimes people handled the first rape, Homicide handled the second, and never the twain shall meet. However, and we suspect Mr. Dwyer knows this, in the very early phases of this high profile case, both the Sex Crimes unit and the North Homicide unit were involved. North Homicide had bettter success rounding up suspects and eliciting their cooperation, so they took over the case. But there was a time, if only the first day, when Sex Crimes worked this. My source for this, for late arrvals, is "Unequal Verdicts - The Central Park Jogger Trials" by Timothy Sullivan.

What happened? Just a guess, but at some point someone from Sex Crimes must have mentioned this other rape to someone at North Homicide. Probable response from a very proud Homicide cop: we have a theory of the case, we have five suspects, we have confessions, why do you want to mess us up with unfounded speculation? Aren't there some perverts for you to chase, or something?

So, will the rape convictions be vacated at the October hearing? Well, I had already predicted that, so yeah, I think this reinforces that opinion. Will the judge set aside the other convictions? This evidence does not really speak to that. It might leave one thinking that, if one part of the confession is false, it all is. On the other hand, over-confessing is a common phenomenon: a scared kid, guilty of three crimes, confesses to four. A certain psychological momentum develops. In any case, the other three assaults were committed by gangs of youths, and there was, at one time, a cooperating gang member who put these guys there. However, if the judge is angry enough, I expect he can set everything aside.

But the other convictions may not matter. In terms of criminal penalties, the real punishment was for the rape. The five convicted youths were sentenced to 5 to 10 years for rape and robbery; among the plea bargains, a 17 year old (adult, we presume) got 1 year for assault; a 15 year old juvenile believed to be the ringleader got 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years for robbery.

So, if the five men can show that the prosecution was unreasonable and in bad faith, the damages at a civil suit could be significant. Prior to this latest development, my belief was that the City had a reasonable "good faith" defense. Now, it looks like it's time to open the checkbook. Although, given the spate of new information, my very first reaction is looking pretty sensible too: maybe we should wait and see what else the investigation reveals.

UPDATE: NO, I cannot link to my own archives, this is Blogger! The moving hand writes, and having writ, moves on, or some such. Anyway, check out JeraLyn at TalkLeft for some comments. And now, right now the Blogger editor is not working either! Better and better!

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