The Career Girls Murders
The Year of Whitmore
George Whitmore Jr. still faced charges in the Minnie Edmonds murder. His admission to that killing, allegedly given at the same time as the Wylie-Hoffert confession, was on record and ruled admissible in a pre-trial hearing. The confession had to be read to a jury and they would decide as to its accuracy and truth. It was an ominous development for Whitmore and his defense attorney complained bitterly to the court: "Judge, my client is doomed by this decision!"
When theEdmonds murder trial began in Brooklyn in April 1965, public sentiment, which originally was anti-Whitmore, turned decisively in his favor. Stories about his innocence and alleged "frame-up" by the police were printed nationwide and had even come to the attention of the United States Supreme Court. Prosecutors felt that the only way to clear up the matter was to present it to a jury in open court and let them decide. The district attorney's office took the position that even if the Wylie-Hoffert confession was bogus, it did not necessarily mean that the Borerro and the Edmonds confession were also false.
But the Whitmore affair had many implications. For decades, an admiring public simply accepted the word of the police at trials, especially in New York City where the police department was held in high regard and enjoyed a first-class relationship with its citizenry. If the guilt or innocence of a defendant depended solely on the testimony of the police, a jury usually accepted their word. It was simply assumed that the police were telling the truth. If the cops were proven to be liars or fabricated confessions from suspects, then the entire criminal justice system could not be trusted.
At the Edmonds murder trial, the Brooklyn detectives who questioned Whitmore on the night of April 24, 1964, were called to the stand. Each testified to the willingness of the confession and each swore there was no coercion involved nor did they "suggest" any scenarios to the defendant. What little physical evidence there was in the murder of Minnie Edmonds could not be tied to Whitmore. On April 23, George Whitmore Jr. took the stand in his own defense.
He denied everything. Talking slowly and careful not to trip over his words, Whitmore said that he never killed anyone. "I was not told how she was killed till I came to trial... I didn't even know the Wylie-Hoffert girls were dead... I did not know Minnie Edmonds was dead, sir!" For two days Whitmore remained on the stand while the prosecution tried to tear down his denials. But Whitmore was steadfast: he was fed details about all the murders from his interrogators. In the end, the only weapon the prosecution had against Whitmore was his own confession.
Defense Attorney Stanley Reiben in his summation accused the police of a frame-up. "When Wylie-Hoffert blew up, it left them with a little egg on their face, " he said to the jury. "There's only one way to wipe it off and that's to convict him for something else." After deliberating for 34 hours, an exhausted jury gave up. It was a mistrial. Rumors indicated that the vote was 10 to two for acquittal. Whitmore was sent back to jail, still not convicted of anything.
The Journal American later interviewed Whitmore while he was being held in the Brooklyn lock-up. They asked him what he thought about at the time he was being questioned by the police. "I kept saying to myself: When is it all going to end? Why don't they leave me alone?" he said. "And when they tell me how I was supposed to have done these things I felt like dirt," he said. "I felt so low... In my mind, I just kept calling on God, but it seemed like He didn't hear me."
In May of 1965, barely one month after the Edmonds trial, the New York State Senate voted to abolish capital punishment in the state of New York. The vote was 47 to nine. When the bill was signed into law by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, one lawmaker told the press "This is the year of Whitmore."