George Whitmore Jr., 68, whose false confession in three New York murders in 1964 became a basis for both Miranda protections and the partial repeal of capital punishment in New York State, died last week in Wildwood, N.J., reports the New York Times. Whitmore, an eighth-grade dropout, was 19 when he was picked up in Brooklyn–without cause–and questioned about a number of crimes, including the two heavily publicized but unsolved “Career Girl Murders.” After an interrogation that lasted several days, Whitmore signed a 61-page confession to several rapes and murders. He later said he wanted to be helpful.
Whitmore recanted and said police wrote the confession. Despite exonerating evidence, Whitemore faced prosecutions for the crimes that stretched out over a decade. Selwyn Raab, a former Times reporter who wrote a book about the case, said, “Whitmore's case showed how fragile the whole system was, and still is.” The case became a rallying cry against capital punishment, which the state legislature abolished in 1965, except for the killing of police officers. The U.S. Supreme Court cited Whitmore's case as “the most conspicuous example” of police coercion when it issued its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, establishing a set of protections for suspects, like the right to remain silent. After the last case against him was finally dismissed in 1973, Whitmore moved back to his hometown of Wildwood, where he lived out his life, struggling with depression and alcoholism.