Friday, February 26, 2010


The single greatest editorial we've seen in a long, long time:

This case was a crime: DAs must learn tough lessons from false rape conviction

Five years after crying rape and sending a man to prison for a crime that never happened, Biurney Peguero has been slapped with a one- to three-year sentence for committing perjury.

She deserves that much - and more. Peguero should have been required to spend at least as much time behind bars as did William McCaffrey, the innocent man she locked away.

That Peguero eventually admitted fabricating her account of a brutal assault by McCaffrey and two other men does not mitigate her offense. Nor was hers garden-variety perjury of the kind that witnesses perpetrate to, say, dodge an indictment.

Peguero's sworn words stole the freedom of a blameless individual as surely as if she had kidnapped and held him hostage for 50 months. Her eligibility to apply for parole in a year pales in comparison.

She also played the criminal justice system - the police, the Manhattan district attorney's office, a judge and two juries - for fools. They bought a story that in the clear light of hindsight had grounds for doubt.

And, so, the Peguero case must serve as an object lesson for law enforcement authorities and judges as to the makings of a wrongful conviction. It should also reinforce for them the need for speedy reconsideration when there is substantial evidence that an injustice has been done.

Peguero's tale was horrifying. She said she met McCaffrey after a long night of drinking in upper Manhattan and wound up with him and his friends in a van. In graphic detail, she described being raped at knifepoint by McCaffrey and two others. She offered as evidence a bite mark.

So convincing was Peguero that Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers slammed McCaffrey with a 20-year sentence - more than the recommended maximum - saying, "she gave up caring what you and your accomplices were doing in sexually assaulting her; hoping only that you would not take her life."

But a medical exam had turned up no evidence that Peguero had been raped at all, let alone by McCaffrey, let alone by three men.

But she had also told a friend there had been only one rapist.

But the men returned Peguero to her friends rather than dumping her on the street.

But police couldn't bring cases against the other two supposed attackers.

But a witness said Peguero had gotten into an unrelated fight with her friends, the melee in which she suffered the bite mark.

The DA's office says it investigated to the fullest extent possible. Still, this was that most dangerous of prosecutorial entities: the single-witness case. And it went horribly wrong.

Later, in 2007, after advances in DNA technology, McCaffrey's lawyers asked for access to DNA left with the bite mark. The material should have been provided forthwith, in keeping with then-DA Robert Morgenthau's stated policy. But a year passed before a DNA test proved that McCaffrey had not bitten Peguero, as had been presented at his trial.

Then, after Peguero recanted her story in March 2009, it took yet another nine months before he was freed.

When that day finally came, Carruthers apologized profusely and called the conviction a catastrophe for both McCaffrey and the criminal justice system..

The judge was right on both counts. Now, the goal must be never to stumble into another such disaster. New DA Cy Vance made a campaign issue of preventing wrongful convictions. He is moving to create a special unit for that purpose.

The horrible saga of McCaffrey's imprisonment must be part of the curriculum.