This is a followup to one of our recent postings. In the wake of the recent 60 Minutes segment entitled Chicago: The False Confession Capital, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez retorted with a letter claiming the segment was “one-sided and extremely misleading.” Alvarez accused reporter Byron Pitts of using only snippets of her interview, making it appear she was still trying to prosecute the case. In the interview, Alvarez stated that necrophilia is an explanation for why DNA from one victim matched a serial rapist. Alvarez claims the statement was misconstrued because she never advanced that theory or argument, rather it was the theory used at trial years before she had any involvement in the case. Alvarez was most offended by the 60 Minutes suggestion that she continues to “stubbornly defend the actions of police and prosecutors…” In fact, Alvarez took the position that she is the one who dismissed the convictions because the prosecution could no longer meet their burden of proof.
Only a few days later, Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld responded to Alvarez’s letter stating, “[Alvarez] is simply stuck in denial of the magnitude of the catastrophic consequences suffered by nine young African American men who were stone cold innocent but lost the best years of their lives.” Neufeld points to Alvarez’s unwillingness to admit the convictions were a tragic failure of the criminal justice system. Neufeld references the 12 Step Program stating, “The first step to improving a situation where mistakes and misconduct occurred in the past is to admit that error where made….If you can’t first admit error, there is no hope in meaningful improvement or change.”
Neufeld has a point. Chicago has more juvenile confessions than any other city and has earned the reputation of being the “false confession capital,” If Alvarez, as the State’s Attorney, is unwilling to admit there is a problem, the problem is far from being fixed. Neufeld commends those who do admit when they are wrong and take corrective action but begs the questions, “Why can’t Anita Alvarez be like them?” Perhaps the “tunnel vision” explanation mentioned in the 60 Minutes episode plays a part or more cynically, perhaps it’s politics. Either way, something has to change.
Neufeld goes on to shed some light onto Alvarez’s claim that she did not believe that an act of necrophilia occurred because if she did she would not have taken the “bold step” in dismissing the charges. He points out Alvarez’s office actually engaged in months of litigation arguing the new evidence was insignificant despite the DNA exonerating the nine men of these crimes. It was not until “[a]fter Judge Bieble rejected all of her specious argument and ruled in favor of the young men, the state was left with no choice but to dismiss the indictments.” Even then, Alvarez continued to “aggressively oppose in court the men’s application for certificate of innocence.” Speaking of misconstruing facts, Ms. Alvarez has found herself in a hypocritical bind. It sounds more like her hand was forced than a “bold step.”
In Neufeld’s response, he does something Alvarez’s letter fails to do: he uses the facts to both refute Alvarez’s claim that 60 Minutes misconstrued her interview and to respond to the statements Alvarez made, which have negatively construed her in the public’s eyes.
To Ms. Alvarez, even if 60 Minutes misconstrued your interview, you failed to make that point in your letter. You made conclusive statements that the segment was misleading and only snippets were used. You never enlightened the audience to the point you were trying to make. Instead you continued to defend the convictions, pointing out the evidence that supported the convictions. You even continued to rely on the false confessions as evidence of guilt when the segment you are complaining about is about the misfortune of false confession. Ms. Alvarez, if you showed any remorse or sympathy toward the young men who lost their freedom, it would have shown either on 60 Minutes or in your letter. An apology and/or a statement that you believe these boys are innocent would have gone a long way. Finally, if you, Ms. Alvarez, did not believe necrophilia was a possible theory you could have said that, making it impossible for 60 Minutes to “misconstrue” your opinion. As one of the commenters of the article point out, “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Perhaps you don’t believe this applies to you or those prosecuting a case.