George Whitmore Dead at 68

Whitmore in custody in 1963. From T.J. English’s Web site:

George Whitmore died in anonymity and poverty, at the age of 68. In 1963, Whitmore was wrongfully convicted in the double homicide of Janice Wylie, 21 – a magazine editor, and Emily Hoffert, 23 – a schoolteacher. He was 19 years old.

The interrogation by a group of all-White detectives lasted 22 hours. Whitmore, a school dropout with a 90 IQ, finally signed a 61-page confession. The case, which the city of Manhattan and the nation dubbed, “the Career Girl Murders,” eventually made it to TV in the form of “the Marcus-Nelson Murders.” It was from this film that the spin-off series “Kojak” was born.

T. J. English, the author of The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge, knew Whitmore, and eulogized him in a 2-page column in the New York Times.

Left: George Whitmore at 19. Right: Richard Robles 9 years later

This story unfolded before the eyes of the nation on the eve of the Civil Rights Movement. The evidence clearing Whitmore was voluminous. Witnesses testified on his behalf. Blood chemistry and forensics data didn’t match the confession. Whitmore was said by police to have a photograph of one of the victims in his possession at the time of his arrest. No such photograph existed. It would be 9 years before Richard Robles – a White man, was eventually tried and convicted for the crime.

The Whitmore fiasco was pivotal in New York’s banning of the Death penalty. He is also credited with being a force behind the Supreme Court’s milestone ruling in “Miranda v. Arizona,” the case that led to suspects being read Miranda rights.

Janice Wylie

Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions has a timeline on the case.

Although Whitmore was finally released, and actually served much less time than many other wrongfully convicted individuals – such as Felix Garcia – nobody can argue that his life was indelibly changed by this horrible miscarriage of justice.

Likewise, we all owe him not only the debt of a life ruined by rabid prosecution, but we owe him much, much more. If you ever find yourself under arrest, and you utter those words cops hate to hear – I don’t have to say anything without a lawyer present – you can whisper a silent prayer of thanks to George Whitmore.

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