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Toobin: Case shows injustice can happen

Jeffrey Toobin
Jeffrey Toobin

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- On Thursday, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau filed papers recommending that all convictions against five men found guilty of raping and assaulting a Central Park jogger be dropped. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin discussed the case with CNN anchor Connie Chung.

CONNIE CHUNG: All right. Now, Jeffrey, the question is, why did the prosecutors make this turnaround? I mean, it is quite extraordinary, isn't it? Not what you expected.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: It's not. And this, you have to pause and say what an extraordinary day this is in the history of the American judicial system. Here you have the most senior and most respected prosecutor in the United States, Robert Morgenthau, DA for 28 years, (and the) biggest case of his career. He walks into court today, files this brief, and says, "We got the wrong guy," because what they could have done, what they could have done is say: "Well, the evidence is ambiguous. We're not sure."

No, no. This brief says: "Reyes is guilty. Those kids are innocent."

CHUNG: Throw the convictions out.

TOOBIN: Throw the convictions, all the convictions. That's where I was wrong.

CHUNG: Yes, you thought it would just be the rape charges.

TOOBIN: And this brief says something. If you read it very carefully, you see, in this year, two of the defendants admitted that they had been involved in the other assaults, but they still threw out the whole case because they said it was tried as one series of assaults. The rape case was so much the center of the case. If you couldn't prove that -- as they admit they can't -- you couldn't honorably prosecute the five for anything, so they threw the whole thing out. Incredible.

CHUNG: It is incredible. But do you think that the prosecution essentially is saying, Morgenthau, the DA, is saying that there was prosecutorial misconduct?

TOOBIN: No, they're not.

And I think that's the sort of chilling legacy of this case. We all sort of understand when cops go wrong, when cops and prosecutors violate the law. What's scary about this case is that these cops and prosecutors played by the rules. These are honorable people. And, still, they wound up prosecuting the wrong person.

CHUNG: So, you don't think the police coerced them into these confessions?

TOOBIN: You know, based on what I saw, I thought this was the way cops behaved all the time. And it is not -- this wasn't the third degree. This wasn't keeping people in a way that was abusive.

This is how cops behave with most prosecutors. I don't think it was abuse. But it just shows, even when there's business as usual, there can be terrible injustice.

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