Today's Wilmington News Journal publishes the OpEd, "'The Central Park Five' and a death penalty evolution," by Jan Ting. He's a professor of law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. Here's an extended excerpt:
I’ve been a holdout, declining to join the progressive movement to abolish the death penalty everywhere in the United States and the world. I’ve thought that in an open, democratic society with a fully developed modern legal system and lots of lawyers, there would be no risk of error in high-stakes, high-profile criminal cases.
The documentary “The Central Park Five,” by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, recently broadcast on PBS, has finally convinced me that I was wrong. Everyone should see this fine piece of filmmaking the next time it’s broadcast or appears again in a theater, or if it becomes available on the Internet.
Prosecutors celebrated their victory in obtaining guilty verdicts against all the young men, tried as adults, based solely on their confessions, even though DNA evidence from the crime scene did not match any of them, and the defendants insisted their confessions had been coerced.
All the defendants served their full sentences of between 6 and 13 years before another man, a convicted rapist whose DNA had been in the possession of the NYPD, confessed to the attack on the Central Park jogger.There was a definitive DNA match to this confessed and convicted rapist, and the convictions of the Central Park Five were finally vacated in 2002. Oops!
Throughout their ordeal, the Central Park Five insisted on their innocence. At their parole hearings when asked, as a condition for parole, to admit to the crime for which they had been convicted, they refused to do so, and so had to serve out their full prison sentences.
So much for my theory about developed, modern legal systems with plenty of lawyers. I doubt that any place has a more developed legal system, or a greater concentration of lawyers, than New York City.
More on Ken Burns' PBS documentary, "The Central Park Five," is at the link.