Central Park Jogger and False Confessions

We watched the ABC News Prime Time special report tonight on the Central Park Jogger. We are very troubled by retired lead officer' Bert Arroyo's statements which we think are clearly belied by the record. There is no evidence to support the theory that more than one person raped the jogger. Yet Arroyo clings to this theory and says that the five boys raped the jogger and left her for dead before Matias comes along and finds her, and then rapes her again.

Arroyo says the boys were not questioned without their families. He points to the parents signatures on their statements. But the boys were taken to the scene of the crime by police before making their videotaped statements. Arroyo sees nothing wrong with this. We're supposed to believe that while the police and the boys were alone in the car (no family or lawyers) driving to and from the scene of the crime, and while at the scene, there was silence? We think it probable (as did the false confession experts on the show) that while at the scene of the crime the police fed details of the crime to the youths who were then brought back to the stationhouse to have their statements videotaped in the presence of their families.

The family members say they had been at the stationhouse for hours trying to speak with them and kept waiting. While they were kept waiting, unbeknownst to them, the police were already questioning the boys and engaging in coercive, manipulative and lying tactics (which courts allow) to get them to confess. And contrary to Arroyo's statements on the show, the boys were led to believe if they confessed they would get to go home.

If anyone on the show lacked credibility to us, it was Arroyo, not the five youths, not their families and not Matias.

The only evidence to support a rape charge against these five boys was their statements. Only only one person's semen was recovered and DNA has proven it was that of Matias who has now confessed. Forensic Expert Michael Baden stated on the show there were either no vaginal tears or one slight one, and the injuries and physical evidence were far more consistent with there being one rapist as opposed to many. The five youths had no blood on their clothing. No other phyiscal evidence linked them to the crime. The one hair found on the sweatshirt of one of the boy's was identified at his trial as belonging to the victim. Yet later DNA testing has shown this to be false. All gave different statements about who did what to whom-- none of their stories matched.

But that's our opinion. For an opinion of one who studied the trial evidence closely, and came to the conclusion that Prosecutor Linda Fairstein (barely mentioned, if at all, in the ABC News special) and the police tricked and manipulated false confessions from the youths, and improperly kept friends and family members from contact with one of them, we are reprinting the 1993 dissenting opinion of Judge J. Titone in the appeal of one of the youths, Yusef Salaam. The majority of the appeals court upheld Yusef's conviction and did not find his confession false. But the majority doesn't go into the facts much, saying its unnecessary because everyone knows them so well, and Judge Titone does. We think reading it brings out much more than the ABC show about what really happened at the police station.

"Titone, J. (Dissenting). This case concerns a horrible and brutal crime that captured and held the public's attention for more than a year. It also involves the conduct of police officers and an Assistant District Attorney who obtained a confession from a 15-year-old boy by keeping him in isolation from the three concerned adults who came to the police station to help him. Because the officers' actions represented a deliberate effort to keep him away from all responsible individuals who might have offered counsel or assistance, I would reject the holdings of the courts below and hold instead that the resulting confession must be suppressed.

Although the majority briefly sketches the circumstances surrounding defendant's detention and interrogation, they are sufficiently important to bear further elucidation. At a little after 10:30 P.M. on the day after the highly publicized crime occurred, Detective Taglioni and three other detectives went to defendant's home and "asked" him and his two companions to come to the police station for questioning. Defendant "voluntarily" accompanied the detectives, while his sister called an aunt who lived near the police station, Marilyn Hatcher, and asked her to go to defendant's aid. Hatcher left for the police station with her fiance almost immediately, arriving at approximately 11:10 P.M. By that time, defendant had arrived at the police station and had been taken to the Sex Crimes Office for questioning.

A Detective McKenna read defendant the Miranda warnings and obtained a waiver of his rights just as Hatcher reached the police station and told an officer that she wanted to see her nephew. After being asked to wait for a few minutes, Hatcher was told by Detective Taglioni that defendant was currently being questioned, that she would not be permitted to see him because she was neither a parent nor a guardian and, finally, that defendant would not even be given the information that "some of his family was there."

Approximately 15 minutes later, David Nocenti, a United States Attorney who happened to be defendant's "Big Brother", arrived. Having learned from Hatcher that she had been prevented from seeing defendant, Nocenti approached the desk officer and informed him that he was a friend of defendant's family as well as an attorney. Nocenti was asked to wait while Assistant District Attorney Fairstein, the head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, was informed of his presence. Fairstein conferred with one of the detectives who was involved in defendant's questioning and ascertained that defendant had already made a number of inculpatory statements. Fairstein did not suggest that the questioning should be suspended because of Nocenti's presence. Instead, she approached Nocenti, told him that he had no right to be at the precinct and questioned his ethics as an attorney. Significantly, Nocenti had made it clear that he was there not in his capacity as an attorney, but rather was there as a friend of the family who wanted to aid defendant. At 11:40 P.M., Fairstein told Nocenti that he could not see defendant and that he would have to leave the premises because he was neither an immediate family member nor an attorney representing the suspect. As in the case of Marilyn Hatcher, defendant was not informed that Nocenti had come to the precinct to see him.

Within minutes, defendant's mother arrived and encountered Hatcher and Nocenti, who were waiting outside the precinct. The entire group then reentered the precinct and informed the desk officer that defendant's mother was now there. After waiting for a few minutes, Fairstein and another Assistant District Attorney spoke with defendant's mother and told her that she would be permitted to see him after the questioning had been completed.

After conferring with Nocenti outside, defendant's mother went back inside, this time demanding that she be permitted to see her son immediately. It was then that she revealed for the first time that defendant was 15, not 16 as the authorities had previously been led to believe. Apparently caught off guard, Fairstein bickered with defendant's mother and Detective Taglioni for a few minutes before deciding to call a halt to the interrogation. Even then, the questioning did not immediately stop. Instead, it merely shifted to the subject of defendant's age and how it had been misrepresented on his identification card.

In all, defendant was questioned for an hour and a half before the interrogation was terminated. During that entire period, unbeknownst to him, there were related and/or concerned adults who were present and could have provided him with helpful counsel had they not been denied all access to him. What emerges from these facts is a picture of law enforcement officers who were so anxious to extract a full and complete confession that they did everything within their power to keep this youthful suspect isolated and away from any adults who might interfere with their exploitation of "the awesome law enforcement machinery possessed by the State" ( People v Cunningham, 49 NY2d 203, 207).

The majority finds no legal authorities that would forbid such conduct in the absence of some form of additional trickery or deception. I disagree....

The decision in People v Bevilacqua (45 NY2d 508) clarified the Court's position and, in the process, adopted a view that is directly relevant to the issue presented here. In Bevilacqua, the police first obtained an oral confession despite the defendant's repeated requests to speak to his mother. They then extracted a written confession after misleading the defendant's attorney about his whereabouts. On the defendant's appeal, this Court directed the suppression of both statements, including the oral one that had been obtained before the suspect's attorney "entered the proceeding." In so ruling, the Court noted that the defendant's attorney might have "entered the proceeding" at an earlier point if the defendant's request to see his mother had been honored ( id., at 514). In words that are particularly instructive in this case, the Court specifically identified as "©rucial" "the continuing effort by the police to prevent defendant from establishing contact with anyone who might be able to provide him with assistance or advice" ( id., at 514).

It is evident from both the result and the rationale in Bevilacqua that the holding was not limited to a situation in which the police use deliberate trickery and deceit, as the majority suggests (majority opn, at 56). Indeed, if a narrow rule based on the use of chicanery had been intended, there would have been no reason for the Court to suppress the defendant's oral statement, which was made before the deceived attorney had even arrived.

....in People v Casassa (49 NY2d 668, 681-682), ...the Court rejected a mentally ill defendant's Bevilacqua claim but suggested that the outcome might well have been different if "the record supported the inference that the police intentionally deprived the defendant of access to his family in an effort to obtain a confession." Once again, the Court's focus was on the denial of access, not the use of trickery and falsehoods.

....The majority's suggestion that the police "reasonably believed that they were dealing with an adult" (majority opn, at 56) is fallacious. Even assuming, as the police justifiably did, * that defendant was 16 at the time he was questioned, it cannot be said that he was actually an adult in any realistic sense of that term. To be sure, our statutes would permit him to be tried as if he were an adult for the serious crimes of which he had been accused (see, CPL 1.20 [42] [2]). Furthermore, under CPL 140.20 (6) and Family Court Act § 305.2, he could be arrested without immediate notice to his parent or guardian. None of these statutory provisions, however, negate the elemental fact that defendant was, at most, 16 years old and, under our State's law, an infant for most purposes (see, e.g., CPLR 105 [j]; Civil Rights Law § 1-a; Correction Law § 2 [13]; Domestic Relations Law § 2; EPTL 1-2.9-a; Judiciary Law § 1-a; General Obligations Law § 1-202). As such...defendant had neither the maturity nor the experience to protect his own rights in the inherently coercive, police-dominated atmosphere in which he found himself. Thus, as was recognized in Bevilacqua, he should have been permitted to establish "contact" with the adults who were waiting outside to see him and "who might be able to provide him with assistance or advice" regarding the seriousness of the situation and the need for consultation with counsel before making statements that would irrevocably prejudice his legal position (see, People v Bevilacqua, supra, at 514).

* I do not dispute the majority's conclusion that the police cannot be faulted for failing to accord the statutory protections of CPL 140.20 (6) or Family Court Act § 305.2 when the suspect has misrepresented his age and there is no objective basis for doubting the suspect's false claim.

Furthermore, there can have been no other reason for the decisions of Detective Taglioni and Assistant District Attorney Fairstein to prevent defendant's aunt, "Big Brother" and mother from speaking to him other than to capitalize on his youth and isolation and to assure that he did not receive aid and advice from the supportive adults who were in a position to retain counsel for him. Indeed, it is apparent that the authorities' purpose was to obtain the evidence they wanted before permitting defendant to speak with an adult who might interfere with the investigators' absolute control over his person and environment (see, People v Bevilacqua, supra, at 514). In other words, "the police intentionally deprived the defendant of access to his family in an effort to obtain a confession" ( People v Casassa, supra, at 681-682).

Contrary to the majority's assertion, the foregoing conclusion requires no impermissible inference drawing. Assistant District Attorney Fairstein made the authorities' motives in this regard explicit when she told defendant's mother that she would not be permitted to see her son until after the detectives were finished with their questioning. This declaration that defendant would continue to be isolated despite the presence of his mother at the police station belies the suggestions made earlier to Hatcher and Nocenti that the only reason they were being denied access was that neither was a parent or a person who had come to provide legal representation.

Finally, defendant's need for an adult perspective in this situation is highlighted by the cynical manner in which the detectives manipulated the information they gave him in order to induce a confession. The detectives told defendant that he had been implicated in the crime by others but that it was possible that he could still be released "depending on what [he] ha[d] to tell [them]." When defendant balked, the officers told him, falsely, that they were able to lift fingerprints from the victim's jogging pants. At that point, defendant, perceiving no alternative, acceded to the police pressure and began giving the inculpatory statements that had subsequently convicted him.

Manifestly, an experienced adult could have disabused defendant of the naive notion that there was anything he could say to police that would result in his release at this stage in the investigation. Certainly, a knowledgeable adult--or an attorney retained by such an adult--could have alerted him that he could not extricate himself from the most serious charges merely by denying having directly participated in the rape. In any event, defendant's aunt, "Big Brother" or mother could have helped this 15-year-old suspect to appreciate the value of waiting until after he had spoken to an attorney before committing himself to the inculpatory statements he was in the process of making.

In sum, other than an undisguised intention to exploit this defendant's youthful vulnerability, there was no justification for the authorities' actions in preventing defendant from gaining access to the helpful counsel of the supportive adults who had gathered at the police station to assist him. Accordingly, I would hold that the statements the police obtained as a result of their overreaching ought to have been suppressed. Such a holding is necessary, in my view, both to deter the abuse of police authority and to protect the right to counsel of those who are too young and naive to appreciate its importance. Because the analysis and holdings of the courts below, and of the majority here, fail to give adequate weight to the rights of this unrepresented juvenile, I dissent from the decision to uphold his conviction. "

You can access the full opinion for free at here . The official cite is 83 N.Y.2d 51; 629 N.E.2d 371; 607 N.Y.S.2d 899; 1993 N.Y. LEXIS 4332 (1993).

Matias had no motive to confess. The fact that he can't be charged with the rape now because the statute of limitations has passed is of no consequence to Matias who is serving a life term for other rapes.

As for why an innocent person would confess (not limited to this case), without the legalese, go here.

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