Does anybody recognize the name Charles Stuart? How about Willie Bennett? Probably not. Here’s the story and how it relates to the events in Pittsburgh yesterday.
Charles Stuart and his wife Carol were driving home from childbirth classes in Boston on the night of October 23, 1989 when, according to a statement Stuart later gave the police, a black gunman forced his way into their car, robbed them, then shot Charles in the stomach and Carol in the head. Carol died that night and their baby died 17 days later.
Boston police searched for a suspect, based on the description given by Stuart, using what is known as the “stop and search” method. That is, they stopped every black man within a ten mile radius in hopes of catching the killer more quickly. This resulted in the arrest of Willie Bennett.
On December 28, Stuart picked Bennett out of a lineup and identified him as the assailant.
Fortunately, from there Stuart’s story began to unravel when his brother confessed that Stuart killed his own wife to collect on an insurance policy, and that Stuart shot himself to make the story more believable. Bennett was released and on January 4, 1990, Stuart committed suicide.
Ten years later, Willie Bennett was interviewed by the Boston Globe.
“Yesterday, in a rare interview, Bennett told the Globe the case still haunts him. He blames it for his mother’s premature death and frayed family ties. And he refuses to hide his frustration.
“I don’t trust anybody. I barely trust myself,” said Bennett, now 50. “The police falsely pinned a crime on me once and they can do it again.
“I have no faith in the law enforcement and I don’t like cops,” said Bennett. (Boston Globe, 4/6/2000.)
I said all that to say this. If the police in Pittsburgh had not quickly discovered the inconsistencies in the allegations made by the woman there yesterday, history could have very well repeated itself. Every 6 foot 4, 200 pound black man in Pittsburgh would have immediately become a suspect. Someone could have been falsely arrested and jailed, and harbored the same resentment toward police that Mr. Bennett still held 10 years later, and rightfully so.
The fact that some members of the media, specifically Matt Drudge and Fox News, were so quick to pick up this story and run with it before anything was confirmed, also should be alarming. Both, in my opinion, have discredited themselves as reputable news sources and both should have issued an apology for their actions.
The McCain communications director who gave the story to the local news media in Pittsburgh, and even went so far as to embellish some of the details, should either resign or be fired today.
This story had the possibility of consequences far beyond a political campaign. Let’s just all be thankful that it fell apart so quickly, before any of those possibilities became a reality.