Be Leery of Confessions

Patz Confession: Hold Your Horses

Remember, it was just a month ago that it seemed that another guy was surely Etan Patz's killer.

Jim Dwyer, for many years one of New York City's finest journalists, isn't ready just yet to hop on the Yippee, We Got Him! bandwagon:

The boy disappeared 33 years ago, the suspect had been in custody for barely a day, after decades of false starts, but already the publicity engine was outracing the actual investigation or filing of charges. “People heard the word ‘confession’ and they think that’s it, the case is solved,” a law enforcement official involved in the case said.

Is it?

“If this was a baseball game, we would be in the first inning,” the official, who would not be identified, said. “He is lucid, he’s persuasive. But there is not a lot of corroborating information.”

You can read a bit more here, at a site called, about why people make them, how often they happen, and some high-profile cases of exoneration. One of the most shocking cases in recent history, it's worth remembering, comes from New York, and the Central Park Jogger case. A horrific miscarriage of justice.

Everyone wants justice and solace for the Patz parents. But those can come only from a true and real verdict. I was in New York during the CPJ case, and it was just an appalling thing to witness, tabloid journalism at its feral worst. This is different, I know; an aging Hispanic man doesn't release the same juices in the tabloid brain that a pack of black tenagers does.

Caution is still in order. As Dwyer notes, Pedro Hernandez has no known history of pedophilia or murderous impulses. A law enforcement official tells Dwyer: “Wasn’t it just last month that we were digging up a basement and were sure that it was another guy? There’ll be plenty of time for a victory lap, if it’s warranted.”