Timoney Announces Videotaping Of Suspects Murder Confessions Will Be Recorded On Videotape. If That Works, It Could Be Expanded To Other Crimes.

Posted: June 16, 1998

The camera rolls, and a suspect in a murder case confesses on videotape that he did it.

It's as simple as that, said Police Commissioner John F. Timoney in announcing that his department would begin videotaping confessions of murder suspects as early as mid-July.

``Coming from New York, where they have had videotaped confessions on major cases for as long as I can remember, this really was a no-brainer,'' Timoney said yesterday at a news briefing, where he was joined by Mayor Rendell and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

Timoney said that details of the program, including training for detectives and purchase of equipment, would be ironed out over the next month. After a one-year trial period, Timoney and Abraham will decide whether to expand the program to include other violent crimes, such as rape and aggravated assault.

``Juries have, on occasion, been skeptical about whether confessions have been taken voluntarily,'' said Rendell. ``I believe seeing a defendant on videotape making a statement will be an important factor in enhancing credibility of the police that the confession was taken voluntarily.''

The mayor and Timoney said the program would not change how police interrogate suspects or conduct interviews.

The confessions will first be taken the usual way - in writing, with a suspect signing each page. Then, if the suspect agrees to be videotaped, he or she will receive the Miranda, or legal, warnings a second time and repeat the statement while the camera is rolling.

Timoney said the cost of videotaping would be minimal.

``It isn't very sophisticated,'' he said. ``You just have a camera on a tripod with a clock attached. Three. Two. One. Here we go!''

Abraham said taping would add to the ``trustworthiness and credibility of our police officers.''

``Seeing the person's physical condition and demeanor, how he appeared to the police at the time he gave the statement, it will help bolster the testimony of the officer that this was his or her statement and it was obtained voluntarily,'' she said.

The issue of videotaping surfaced last year after Herbert Haak 3d and Richard Wise were acquitted in the slaying of Center City jogger Kimberly Ernest in November 1995. Their lawyers argued that their signed confessions had been coerced by detectives.

After the acquittals, Ernest's mother, Dorothe, urged Rendell to form a task force to study the use of videotaped confessions. Rendell appointed an advisory panel, which recently recommended that police adopt the practice here, as they have in 34 other cities across the nation.

Dorothe Ernest was on hand yesterday and received Rendell's warm appreciation. ``All of us citizens owe Dorothe a great deal of thanks,'' he said.

Ernest, a psychotherapist from Hinsdale, Ill., said she believed that the two men acquitted in her daughter's death would have been convicted if their alleged confessions had been captured on videotape.

``Nothing is going to bring Kimberly back. . . . But you can't go backwards,'' she said. ``I hope that this new tool will make a significant difference in other cases. I know it will.''

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