Why, in the context of court proceedings, do we say “eyewitness” instead of just “witness”? Feel free to speculate in the comments.
We don’t care much for either type of evidence, unless it’s corroborated by something more solid – and by more solid, we don’t mean more “eyewitnesses” and “confessions”. We mean things like phone records, cell tower pings, medical records. Some contemporaneous record made by someone completely uninvolved with the controversy at hand.
Of course, such records could be faked, too. But not as easily as persons in authority getting a witness to say, or confess to, whatever it is the person in authority expects.
Or simply wants, regardless of the truth of the matter.
Netflix is running a docudrama on the Central Park Five, a subject we have visited from time to time. We’ve taken a look at the show. It’s more than a little depressing, especially when we consider that the law enforcement party line continues to be that the kids were guilty.
You should give that last link a read. The “reasoning” is appalling: a) inconsistencies in confessions are indicative of genuineness, because a “confession” made up of details fed by LEO’s would tend to be consistent, not inconsistent (really?); b) Judge Galligan considered everything and believed the confessions to be genuine (Judge Galligan is an infallible truth detector, apparently.).
But let’s be fair. There doesn’t seem to be any question that there was a group of youths on a rampage in the park the night the jogger was attacked. Although “rampage” might be a bit much, because with the exception of the jogger herself and a man named John Loughlin, no one was seriously injured. The remaining “incidents” might be better characterized as “mischief”. A pretty comprehensive account of the whole thing can be found in the affirmation of Assistant District Attorney Nancy Ryan that was filed in support of the motion to set aside the CP5 convictions in 2002. Conveniently, it’s online and you can read it at your leisure.
What’s our bottom line take on this? The “rampaging youths” narrative was a natural fit for investigation. There had been two serious incidents close in time and in the same vicinity : the assault on Loughlin and the assault on the jogger. Can’t blame law enforcement for rounding up as many of the youths as they could get their hands on and pumping them for information until they narrow the field down to the real bad guys who committed the serious crimes. This appears to have been the general plan, in a situation where there were a lot of suspects. So we don’t want to minimize the difficulty of the task, either. Throw in all the outrage in press, and elsewhere. There was a lot of pressure to prosecute people.
But it’s also true that at some point adult supervision has to kick in. People get carried away.
It is not at all clear to us how LEO’s came to focus on the particular five kids they wound up focusing on. To a large extent it seems to us random and arbitrary. It may in fact be that these particular five were just the most suggestible under questioning, or the least emphatic in denying involvement, or the most desirous of being helpful to LEO’s, whom they also trusted more than the others. Especially with respect to the latter quality, this simply compounds the wrong of settling on them as the culprits, but it’s not as though that’s an intentional wrong.
So to that extent, and since we have now seen the show which in turn prompted us to review the Ryan affirmation, we’re going to extend our own apology to cop apologist and author Martin Prieb, with whom we had some contentious exchanges back in the day. There is some merit to the LEO position, it seems to us, that they didn’t really do anything overtly wrong in the CP5 debacle.
The wrong here was more in the prosecutor’s office than among LEO’s, and we think the show is fair on this point. Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein are portrayed as being the most culpable parties in the wrongful convictions – especially Fairstein – and that contention appears to have a lot of merit.*
As we’ve said before, a lot of people need to do a lot of serious thinking about what happened with the CP5 case. Three decades later it seems we haven’t even begun.
Oddly, and on another note, we hadn’t noticed til working on this post that our first Amanda Knox post was right alongside one of our earlier discussions of the CP5 matter.
Well, it’s been 6 years.
But it also strikes us, just now, that there is a deeper similarity here with regard to confessions and the way the desire to help with an investigation and a willingness to trust the police can result in an especially wrongful prosecution, “especially” because the victim’s own sincerity and virtue wind up being used to hurt them.
The victims can even begin to entertain fanciful notions of their own guilt to please their questioners.
Give that link a read. Does that seem to you to have any evidentiary value at all? We suppose that if someone is simply determined to believe in AK guilt then there are words and phrases to seize upon.
But confirmation bias value is not evidentiary value.
* Actually, according to the Netflix show there was a semen stained sock found at the scene which had been DNA tested late – only at the time of the CP5 trial. When the DNA didn’t match any of the CP5 Lederer and Fairstein deliberately decided to hide that from the defense, but one of their witnesses (an FBI lab tech named Dwight Adams) blurted it out under defense questioning at the trial. Then the prosecutors came up with their “theory” about yet another, unknown assailant who got away. Of course, this unknown assailant eventually turned out to be Matias Reyes who, it cannot reasonably be thought otherwise, acted alone. As he had on numerous other occasions.
If it’s true that the prosecutors – Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein – deliberately suppressed the DNA test on the sock, why haven’t they been subjected to professional discipline, or criminal prosecution? We think that’s a good question. But we also think that since the CP5 were eventually exonerated and well compensated, and since overzealousness in prosecutors was more tolerated in the late 1980’s than it is today, it’s not unreasonable to leave things where they are.
Fairstein and Lederer surely shouldn’t be receiving awards and accolades, tho.