Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Career Girls Murders

Trial By Ordeal

In June 1966, in one of its most controversial decisions, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the Miranda v. Arizona case. By a vote of five to four, the court stated that when a defendant is taken into custody and accused of a crime, he must be advised of his constitutional rights. Any statements he makes prior to this notification may be invalid unless it meets certain criteria. And it was up to the police and the prosecutors to prove the criteria were met. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion that courts must be aware of false or coerced confessions: "The most recent conspicuous example occurred in New York, in 1964, when a Negro of limited intelligence confessed to two brutal murders and a rape which he had not committed. When this was discovered, the prosecutor was reported as saying: "Call it what you want — brain-washing, hypnosis, fright. They made him give an untrue confession."

On June 27, 1966, over two years after George Whitmore Jr. was first arrested on Chester Street in Brooklyn for the Borerro mugging, the Brooklyn district attorney appealed to the courts to have Whitmore cleared of all charges relating to his confessions. In accordance with the Miranda decision, an escape route out of the legal nightmare had been found for Whitmore. Since the Miranda rule was applied retroactively, it could be utilized in Whitmore's case. "I have found that none of these constitutional rights were accorded to the defendant," District Attorney Aaron Koota told the court. Whitmore could not be prosecuted based solely on his statements of the night of April 24, 1964.

However, the decision did not resolve the original complaint that brought Whitmore to the seven-three on the night of April 23, 1964: the attempted mugging of Elba Borrero. The victim had positively identified Whitmore at the 73rd Precinct. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office position was simple. They felt that prosecutors should not be the ones to decide Whitmore's guilt or innocence. That was the role of a judge and jury. Accordingly, the decision was made to try George Whitmore Jr. yet again for the Borrero attack. The victim readily agreed. "As many trials as it takes," she once said. "He should pay for what he did to me."

During this trial, Whitmore sat passively in the Brooklyn courtroom as Elba Borrero testified. It was all familiar territory by then and the story of Whitmore was well known by everyone. Borrero was unshakeable in her identification of Whitmore as her attacker. In a calm voice, she described the assault on the night of April 23 as she was walking home from work. She told the jury how she was brought to the police station and immediately identified Whitmore as the man who had tried to rob her. Police Officer Isola recounted his version of the events including his chase through the Brooklyn streets as he fired several shots at the fleeing suspect. The defense tried to rebut the testimony but with little success. On the last day of the trial, a decision was made not to place Whitmore on the stand.

After just five hours of deliberations, a verdict was reached. Whitmore was found guilty. He was taken into custody once again and remanded until sentencing. When he returned to court several weeks later, his attorney, Samuel Neuberger pleaded for mercy from the court.

"This young man suffered punishment that I would describe as cruel and inhuman," he said, "awaiting the disposition of murder charges and three trials in this particular case." Neuberger explained to the court that "justice would be best served by terminating this... nightmare and permit him to live as a decent human being." But the judge disagreed. "The victim was a young mother," the judge said," The crime cannot go unpunished." Whitmore was sentenced to five to 10 years and shipped out to Sing Sing prison.

 

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