Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FALSE CONFESSIONS- THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE

Lets try this again. We wrote yesterday that April 15 was the tenth anniversary of the death of Gemma Cosentino, a much respected and beloved REGJB attorney who spent most of her career at the Dade Public Defender's Office. Perhaps it was because her portion of the post was at the end of a lengthy post, or perhaps it was because the tragic events in Boston overtook the public discourse. 

But Gemma was a wonderful lawyer and an even better person and we just cannot believe that no one saw fit to write anything about her.   So we continue the discussion today. 

Kathleen Smith Zorn said...
Tomorrow (April 15, 2013) will be ten years, to the day, since Gemma Cosentino passed away. She was one of those rare of people in the criminal justice building in the 1980's who could disagree without being disagreeable (post Vietnam era -- passions ran high and tempers flared hot), and who was equally well liked by men and women.


Here is our first post on Gemma. 

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
In Manhattan in 1989 a young woman was brutally assaulted in Central Park. Five young black men were identified as suspects. As  a City demanded arrests and "justice",  the case received world wide attention. The five young men confessed, and were tried and convicted. The public could rest. Justice was done. 

Except the five were innocent. 

It is almost unimaginable to conceive the size of the deck stacked against these five young men. As film-maker Ken Burns recently observed,  at the time of their arrest "they had no voice." And no attorney qualified to speak up for them. 

Every judge who sits in criminal court and every prosecutor should be required to watch this film? 

"Nobody confesses to a crime they did not commit."
Really? 

Watch this film and then we'll discuss the phenomenon of false confessions with you. 

Until then, see you in court. 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this Ken Burns documentary, but I'm sure William Kuntler must figure into the doc. It's not true that no attorney spoke up for the Central Park Five. William Kuntler spoke up and represented Yusef Salaam. I would recommend viewing the documentary Kuntler's children put together on their dad: "Defending the Universe."

Anonymous said...

It's not true that no attorney spoke up for the Central Park Five. William Kuntler spoke up and represented Yusef Salaam. I would recommend viewing the documentary Kuntler's children put together on their dad: "Defending the Universe."

Secret Judge said...

Is everybody an idiot who writes on this Blog? It's not William Kuntler (sic). It's William Kunstler. Show some friggin' respect for a great lawyer. Also, it's not Vincent DiVicenzo. (The golfer from Argentina) It's Roberto DiVicenzo. My heavens, the young lawyers of today border on combining a sickening dose of ignorance, arrogance, well seasoned with illiteracy. Oh woe is the public who hire you characters.

Secret Judge said...

Gemma was indeed a talented and beautiful young lady. She also had a fun-loving streak that was perfect for the PD's office of that time. Her passing was most unfortunate. I miss her very much.

Steven Bustamante said...

I came to the Justice Building as a young ASA, I think in early 1987. I had been a pretty successful young prosecutor in the Juvenile division and thought pretty highly of myself...

I was in front of Judge Person. If I recall correctly the PDs in that division at the time were, Bruce Baillie, Joyce Brenner, and Gemma Cosentino. Steve Leifman I think came to the division later.

Some of you may not remember, but those were the days of the old guidelines, and prison overcrowding. I think people did 19% of their time, if that, not the 85% today. The minimum mandatories were for capital crimes and maybe 3 years for possession of a firearm. I don't remember about trafficking.

Anyway, as a hotdog young ASA I wanted TIME on my cases, so there were trials: lots of them at first.

I changed my mind about this because of Gemma. She beat me in, I don't know 4 out of 5 jury trials in a month, or something humiliating like that. She was very good, and in a time when you could win a trial, and the guy would still get probation, when after a motion to suppress the judge would just look at you and say, "Sorry, counsellor, I don't find your officers to be credible," before the alphabet soup we have today, you know perps and HOs and HVOs, etc., and minimum mandatories, ad nauseum, I learned to evaluate cases and pick my battles. I because a better prosecutor...because Gemma Cosentino taught me to.

CAPTAIN said...


THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:

SO YOU WANT TO BE A 4TH DCA JUDGE .....

The 4th DCA has an opening as the result of the retirement of Judge Polen. 18 have applied. One name was familiar:

Abbe Rifkin

Cap Out ....

CAPTAIN said...


Thank you to Rumpole for reposting the link to The Captain's Gemma Cosentino post from exactly five years ago.

Gemma was a "gem" and her dedication to our criminal justice system is one that should always be remembered and emulated.

She may have lit up the room with her beauty, but she equally lit up the courtroom with her style as a seasoned criminal defense practitioner.

Thank you to Kathleen Smith Zorn for her post.

Cap Out ....
captain4justice@gmail.com

barry wax said...

When I started in the PD's office in 1984, Gemma was one of the attorneys with whom I worked. Yes, she was strikingly beautiful, but that was surpassed by her intellect, dedication and sense of humor. She was both a great trial lawyer and teacher. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she fought her illness with the same zealousness she brought to her cases - that was when her true strength was revealed. The world was a better place when she graced it with her presence.

Anonymous said...

False confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, etc. it never stops.

Sitting here wondering if the first lawsuit was filed yet in Boston because the organizers failed to provide adequate security against terrorist bombings. You guys know it is just a matter of time before some loser tries to make a name for himself / herself.

Anonymous said...

What about the preppy murder case? The trial became known as "blame the victim defense."

Anonymous said...

Gemma Cosentino was a wonderful lady. Smart and savvy, she CARED about her clients. She battled hard for them, but didn't turn ASAs into enemies. She also was considered a great trial attorney. The PDs is less because of her loss.

George Frobisher said...

Kunstler didn't get into the case until after Salaam's conviction. The client was originally rep'd at trial by a court appointed attorney.

Anonymous said...

False confession + conviction + Third DCA = Harmless error or unpreserved error [gotcha again criminal defendant]

Anonymous said...

After reading his post, the county was well-served not electing Bustamante when he ran for judge.

Anonymous said...

631
you are an ass. If you read his post Steve became a better ASA~ and a better man by being taught to judge each case and defendant on the merits. If you have ever talked w Steve you would know he is a good guy and would have been a straight shooter as a Judge
The Fox

Kenneth White said...

Had Gemma as second seat attorney in death penalty case. She got death waived and still tried the case with me pro bono...... And it was not a three day trial. That's when I fell in love with Gemma. We sometime after that had a similiar serious illness and got to spend more time with this marvelous person. Im still here, by the grace of god..... She didnt make it. But her spirit and fight and goodness never left her ..... I witnessed it

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone who spoke of Gemma as a fantastic Attorney and even greater person. But I can attest to her ability to mentor as well as.
Fresh from Tallahasse, I was naive, sheltered and opinionated when I met Gemma as a rep for the Alternative Program. Gemma would often take the time to give me lessons on the law. Sure we all have some idea of the mechanism of law, but Gemma provided me with much more than a basic knowledge. She was inspirational to say the least. The intellect as well as the passion she displayed when discussing the law as just magical.
I relocated when I left Miami, but Gemma has never been far from my thoughts to this day.
She will forever be missed for her beauty, intellect and passion.