June 22, 2003

unusual suspects

Wrongful arrests are ten a penny, I know, but this Washington Post story is still pretty shocking. Last year, Denise Mansfield, a woman in Prince George’s County was strangled, and her debit card was used in an ATM. Video footage from the ATM seemed to show three women using the ATM in question at the time that Mansfield’s card was being used. The video footage was shown on America’s Most Wanted, leading to the identification and arrest of three women (two of whom were teenagers) in Arizona, on the charge of first degree murder. The two teenagers were hauled out of high school classes to be interrogated. The women allegedly confessed to using Mansfield’s ATM card under interrogation by Prince George’s County detectives.

Sounds like an open and shut case - but after 22 days in jail, it turned out that the women were innocent. The police had apparently never bothered to check whether the surveillance video camera’s clock, and the ATM’s clock were properly synchronized - they weren’t. The women (innocent visitors to DC), had used the ATM machine several minutes before Mansfield’s card was used. This only emerged when the father of one of the teenagers travelled from Arizona to DC with his daughter’s bank records to petition a public prosecutor, who then arranged for an emergency hearing to dismiss the case. Unsurprisingly, detectives aren’t talking about the precise circumstances under which three entirely innocent women “confessed” to a crime that they didn’t commit.

Readers of the WP’s “Metro” section won’t find this surprising - it fits into a pattern. Prince George’s County detectives have a long-standing reputation for heavy-handedness, sloppiness, and brutality. But the money quote has to be from a letter that a senior producer at America’s Most Wanted wrote to one of the teenage accused, urging her to consider the positive side of her ordeal:

had you never been identified, you would still be suspected, because police would still be putting out those photos from the ATM. . . .

and you wouldn’t have been hauled out of high school, accused of first degree murder on the basis of a bogus confession, extradited to Maryland, and incarcerated under heavy security for three weeks either.


Posted by Henry at June 22, 2003 04:35 PM | TrackBack
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