Father to a Confession

'The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny," Edmund Burke wrote in 1790. That old insight was found to be true recently in the well-publicized case of crime against a woman jogger in New York's Central Park 13 years ago.

At that time, violent crime in Manhattan was so prevalent that law-enforcement officials were eager to solve this case of a brutal rape of a young, white banker.

Five African-American and Hispanic youths, who had prior records of assault, were rounded up and questioned between 14 and 30 hours; they all gave confessions, and served time.

Last week, however, Manhattan's district attorney requested that their convictions be thrown out after a convicted serial rapist came forward and confessed to the crime. DNA evidence corroborated his story.

The confessions of the five boys (now men) were deemed "messy," according to the D.A. The five now say they were coerced into making false statements.

Clearly, more than a few questions need answering. Some contradictory evidence apparently went unquestioned by detectives. Why? And just what were police tactics in obtaining the confessions?

Youth, especially, can be intimidated, frightened, and pressured into confessing. Defense and prosecuting attorneys say one of the best ways to protect against such egregious results is to videotape all interrogations. Not a bad idea.

The possibility of racial bias also hangs over this case. If so, law enforcement should take it as another warning about the dangers of race-based assumptions.

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