by Kyle Tuttle
The following guest article by Kyle Tuttle brings to light an issue that has troubled me for many years. It is well-documented that eye-witnesses to a crime can be wrong as often as they are right. Without additional evidence, no one should be tried solely on eye-witness testimony. I have no idea whether Andre "Cropsey" Rand is guilty of kidnapping and murdering Jennifer Schweiger and of kidnapping Holly Ann Hughes. He was convicted of those crimes and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Was the evidence really there? Was Rand proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? You tell me.
The legend of Cropsey is probably the most easily recognized urban legend you’ve never heard of. Films such as Friday the 13th, Madman, The Burning, and, most recently, Hatchet, have taken their leads from this hulking deformed killer, who lives in the woods and comes out to snatch a child or teenager for his own hideous pleasure. The recent documentary Cropsey from filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio explores this legend through the real-life trial of alleged killer Andre Rand.
In 1987, Rand was arrested for the murder of Jennifer Schweiger, a child with Down Syndrome. Once Staten Island police made the arrest, they started connecting Rand to other disappearances, all involving kids with disabilities. Rand was a homeless drifter, who camped in and around the closed state mental facility Willowbrook, where he had once worked as an orderly. Multiple eyewitnesses came forward placing Rand with the missing children shortly before their disappearances. The coincidences piled up, but the evidence did not. Nevertheless, Rand was incarcerated in the penitentiary, where he remains to this day.
Rand has certainly not done himself any favors in the time following his initial arrest. Comments made to other inmates such as “kids entice me”; self-comparisons to serial killer Ted Bundy; and approaching another inmate with a request for child pornography, have all done their part in convicting Rand where hard physical evidence failed.
Clearly there are some pistons not firing in Rand’s head, but given the nature of his conviction, can a country that purports to convict “beyond a reasonable doubt” keep this guy locked up with a straight face? Just because someone is crazy, that doesn’t mean they’re guilty. While it feels better to have Rand locked up from a societal point of view, the implication that comes with his innocence is far more disturbing. A desire for justice could mean the real killer walks free, and that doesn’t do favors for anyone.
The eyewitness testimonies used to convict Rand ranged from compelling (for a few) to insane (for most). Somewhere in between were those citizens who seemed like they just wanted their names fit neatly into the emerging folklore of this real-life Cropsey.
That leaves one overpowering question: Should circumstantial evidence alone be admissible in court? If eyewitness testimony is all the prosecution can muster, how is convicting beyond a reasonable doubt even possible? If the legal system actually practiced what it preached, what would that mean for the thousands of Death Row inmates all over the country? And if you were forced to overturn those convictions, how many more innocent people would die outside the prison walls compared to those wrongfully executed? These are all studies that are impossible to perform. That’s why Lady Justice prefers proof. But if the Rand case is any indication, she doesn’t require it.
This post was contributed by Kyle Tuttle, a freelance writer who focuses his work on helping students find the right psychology degree. He can be reached at tuttletr33 at gmail dot com.