Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sorry, Page One Editors -- The "MetroCard" Alibi Isn't New.

Whoever made room on Page One for the story of the murder suspect exonerated because his MetroCard proved he was nowhere near the scene of the crime -- well, you may be needing an alibi for your own ill-informed decision.

As far back as 1999, the New York news media have been reporting on criminal cases that have hinged on MetroCard evidence. In October of 2000, then-transit beat reporter Randy Kennedy reported on the end of a federal civil rights case over fare beating that exonerated a 19-year-old Brooklyn student; his MetroCard proved he'd paid his fair.

Seven months later, in the spring of 2001, the Daily News recounted how a subway motorman -- suspected of murdering his girlfriend on a Staten Island street -- saw his alibi evaporate when police produced MetroCard evidence that put him at the scene of the crime. As the Daily News reported at the time:

While MetroCard records have been used to solve other crimes, the prosecution of Christopher Stewart is believed to be the first homicide case where the MetroCard will serve as a key piece of evidence.

It's hardly news when prosecutors or police produce electronic evidence in a criminal case. Look at this Times story from June 4, 2004, from police reporter William K. Rashbaum. In it he reports on a suspect in the shooting of a young woman on the W subway train who was exonerated because his MetroCard records proved he couldn't have been the shooter. "Based on his MetroCard," Rashbaum reported, "detectives were able to determine that he indeed entered a station on the W line shortly before the shooting, and investigators believed his account of the incident, a police official said."

Interestingly, the Times seemed decidedly disinterested in swipe-card evidence a few years ago, when a member of the Duke University lacrosse team insisted he was not involved the alleged rape case brought against them, and proferred his "Duke Card" to prove it. As Times readers may remember, the newspaper was consistently skeptical of the students' claims of innocence, until they were at last exonerated in 2007.

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