Monday, August 23, 2010

Convicting on Circumstantial Evidence

The Strange Case of Andre Rand
by Kyle Tuttle

Holly Ann Hughes

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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.


mcassiday said...

This is a very good argument. Well said. It would be a terrible shame if the real killer is someone else and has went unknown and unpunished. This case also brings to mind times when there is abundant, concrete evidence and even though the person is convicted they receive 6 years in prison as opposed to this man, who with literally no evidence has been convicted and imprisoned for years upon years.

Unknown said...

Completly agree
no evidence. how can you convict someone with evidence
justice system doesn't wor

Anonymous said...

I think he got what he deserved. Everyone knew it was him

Kiya said...

In the documentary entitled "Cropsey" it depicted a location that a guy named "George" led people to dig and the little girl "Jennifer Schweiger" was found buried... for which "George" noticed a few balls of clay that led him to the spot to find her. What I found interesting is that he was not investigated for the crime. After all he located her based upon his finding some balls of clay. I dont know but what I understand is that the person who finds a victim is investigated as a possible perpetrator.

I also found interesting the fact that some of the little girls they were missing had been missing for years. So why is it that at the time the girls went missing that "Cropsey" wasnt identified as having been near where they went missing.. Yes at the time they wouldnt have been able to ID him as the guy later on however, where is information that says they noticed anyone unusual being around way back when? None of them said Ya we told the cops way back when about some weird guy hanging about and NOW we know him to be Andre Rand.

I would have to say that I would look at the parents and whoever "George" is that found Jennifer Schweiger as the bad guys.

Nothing adds up to Rand being the bad guy in this story. And if 30 children had went missing why were only 5 mentioned as possible victims of "Cropsey" I think they cherry picked 5 little girls out of the 30 missing because those 5 had some sort of special needs that they could hook together as having been kidnapped by "Cropsey" and Hmmm interesting "Jennifer Schweiger" was killed? Died how? What were the autopsy results of her death? IF she were murdered then they could have brought in the Autopsy results to be used to convict him of MURDER.. why was he only convicted of Kidnapping? Why wasnt he convicted of Murder or even a lesser charge of having killed a person?

I have to say there IS something fishy going on about this case.

Have to say I cant say I believe him to be the culprit ... Its too bad the water is muddied too much to even determine guilt or not.

Unknown said...

I read that he admitted playing with Holly right before she disappeared, but left her before she disappeared. How does he leave someone before they disappear?

Unknown said...

I read that he admitted playing with Holly right before she disappeared, but left her before she disappeared. How does he leave someone before they disappear?

Unknown said...

I read that he admitted playing with Holly right before she disappeared, but left her before she disappeared. How does he leave someone before they disappear?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the perfect example of why our justice system is unfair and prejudiced towards the poor and mentally ill. With people like you on a jury no one is safe. "Everyone knows he did it "?...That's some solid evidence you got there.

Unknown said...

You "think" he got what he deserved. "Everyone knows he did it "?...I hope you're never on a jury if I'm falsely convicted of a crime. A perfect example of why our justice system is so screwed up. The police focus on one person based on their opinion of them and because they don't have the resources to defend themselves. Eyewitnesses accounts are the worst evidence they could have. And people assume that what comes out in the media is fact. The only people you hear from after a person is suspected of committing a crime are law enforcement officials. Public opinion puts a suspect behind the 8 ball long before he or she goes to trial and that shouldn't be the case. Putting this guy away with no physical evidence or an admission is law enforcements way of satisfying the citizens of Long Island not serving justice. Maybe he did what you seem to know he did but maybe isn't supposed to be enough in this country. The prosecutor seems so proud of putting this guy away but she may have very well let a child killer get away with these crimes. Maybe not, but maybe she did. All the police and prosecutors office wanted was a conviction because it means promotions, notoriety, satisfying the public, and putting more money in their pockets. Our money. You're entitled to your opinion of course, although saying everyone knows he did it kind of falls short.

H8NGLFK said...

PS. Friday the 13th was NOT based on this killer in any way, shape, or form. As a matter of fact, it came out BEFORE all of this was in the public eye.

Unknown said...

I agree with many who believe andre rand got railroaded. There was no evidence that would/ should have convicted him " beyond a reasonable doubt". This is so shocking to me. I believe the actual perpetrator is someone in plain sight in the community, maybe even someone in a position of power or trust, police officer, store keeper, teacher, clergy, Jennifer schweigers body turned up after the area had already been searched and rand was already accused seems mighty convenient to me. Anyway, just my thoughts. Thanks for discussing this topic.

Unknown said...

Just watched the documentary and I am dumbfounded that he was convicted on this evidence. Guess I'm a little behind than most of you on this story. Perfect example of guilty by public opinion. I wish they would have tried this in a different jurisdiction and different state to get an untainted verdict.