The Reality of False Confessions – Lessons of the Central Park Jogger Case

Introduction

On April 19, 1989, shortly after 9:00 p.m., a woman jogger was snatched from her run on the 102nd Street transverse of Central Park in New York City. She was beaten, raped, and left for dead. At and around the same time, in the same park, several other courageous souls given to using the park at night were attacked or harassed by packs of teenage boys. Some escaped merely frightened; others were seriously injured. Remarkably, the significance of that series of violent acts would continue to unfold days, months, and even years later. Indeed we might think of the events of April 19, 1989 in Central Park as spawning, at once, several different realities. One of those realities (and at the time, it seemed, the most important one) was that of the jogger herself, as nearly eighty percent of the blood in her body seeped from her wounds into grass and sticks and dirt, all that was left to cushion her battered body. If we could picture her body discarded there, alone, in a secluded patch of darkened urban wood, we might find it strangely quiet in the midst of the busy metropolis, at least after her attacker had delivered his last violent blow and the sound of his retreating footsteps had faded into the night. At that moment we might have perceived that the jogger’s reality was one that teetered on the very precipice of death. For how easy would it have been to have slipped beyond the boundary of life? How preferable to returning to news of her attack? News that she had been beaten so badly that even those closest to her were able to recognize her only by her ring, a band of gold twisted into a strangely pretty bow. News of what she was told was her gang rape. News that her windpipe had been crushed; her brain damaged; that she needed to be physically restrained to stop her limbs from flailing about uncontrollably. Perhaps it is not surprising that the jogger took some time to decide whether to come back to face that news. For twelve days she lay in a coma in a downtown hospital bed where an army of doctors, nurses, and loved ones hovered attentively, ministering to her needs, coaxing her back toward life-and notoriety as the “Central Park jogger.”

Suggested Reading