Diane Seltzer is a design artist who graduated with a BFA from Syracuse University. She taught in inner city schools in Boston and Pennsylvania where she used her artistic talents to help educate and bring inspiration to our youth. She is presently an executive in an import/export business. She has been a long time community organizer and social activist fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, the elderly and children. She is also an ardent animal welfare advocate and recently has extended support to prisoner’s rights and assisting the wrongfully convicted fight for exoneration.
The following essay comes from the Paul Cortez defense fund. The views expressed in it reflect a general concern with wrongful conviction in our justice system as well as the group’s belief in the innocence of Paul Cortez.
Media bias is pervasive in our daily lives. The First Amendment assures freedom of the press and allows all opinions to be expressed. Historically, various perspectives were viewed as thought provoking and a source of stimulation for ideas or actions. However, a new type of journalistic attitude has taken hold of much of the media. Ideas become fact, and these “facts” are manipulated to produce a more scandalous version of the truth and spun into sensationalized stories to boost sales. There are series topics and issues being manipulated by this tabloid media with little concern for accountability or consequence for the “public lynchings” they orchestrate.
One consequence can be the undermining and ultimate loss of a citizen’s civil rights. American law states a citizen is to be innocent till proven guilty in a fair court of law. However, you can be tried and convicted by the media with no chance to prove otherwise unless you have incredible resources. There was such a situation in New York that a group of concerned citizens became aware of and couldn’t ignore. We felt this was an attack on all citizens. The media took a story and sold their product ,the truth be damned, and helped to wrongfully convict a very talented young man named Paul Vincent Cortez.
Paul grew up in a tough neighborhood in Bronx New York but focused intensely on academic, athletic and theatre interests in hopes of fulfilling a dream to create a better life for himself and his family. He earned academic scholarships to the prestigious Buckley School, Poly Prep Country Day School, and Boston University. During his school years, he accumulated an impressive resume of achievements. After becoming the first family member to graduate from college, he was an aspiring Broadway actor and lead singer in a popular New York City band and supported himself by working as a trainer at Equinox Gym in Manhattan.
On November 27, 2005, Paul endured the most unthinkable devastation. A person he loved was found murdered on the floor of her Upper East Side apartment. Paul voluntarily spoke to the police in hopes of providing them with information that might help find the murderer. During six hours of intense interrogation, Paul volunteered his foot prints, allowed the police to photograph his hands and body (which revealed no cuts or wounds), provided his cell phone for inspection (no blood stains), volunteered his DNA, and allowed the police to search his apartment without any sort of warrant in order to eliminate himself from the list of suspects hoping they could concentrate their efforts on finding her killer. There was no reason or evidence to believe that Paul had committed this crime. The first three weeks of the investigation did not yield any relevant witnesses, DNA, surveillance videos or any other illuminating evidence.
With the media hungry to announce a killer on the loose in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world, the police were under incredible scrutiny to produce immediate answers and make an arrest. In addition, this made-for-Hollywood scenario featured a fast-rising Manhattan District Attorney looking to capitalize on the high-profile nature of the murder frenzy. The investigation and forensic testing was limited. Apparently, informing the media that the investigation lacked any significant breakthroughs was not a viable option.
Instead, much of the personal information that Paul volunteered to the police during his questioning was somehow leaked to the media by unnamed or ‘anonymous police sources’. Fabricated stories were printed from these leaks that created an erroneous image of Paul Cortez as a twisted madman. Paul was tried and convicted by the media for this crime before his trial. His trial was a farce with little defense by his inept lawyers. Paul found out the hard way that innocence and the truth is not one’s guarantee for freedom and is now rotting away in an 8X10 foot cell on a wrongful conviction.
We believe that all citizens of the United States have the right to a fair trial with competent counsel. We [the Paul Cortez defense fund] believe that Paul Cortez was denied a fair trial because of inept counsel, media bias influence on the jury, inadequate investigation, and inexplicable lack of forensic testing. We believe that Paul Cortez was denied his basic civil rights and was unfairly convicted by a bias media rather than a fair court of law. Accordingly, we have formed a Defense Fund to attempt to have Paul Cortez’s case be reopened and reviewed by the State of New York through the grant of a new trial. We hope that all fair minded people will feel compelled to join this fight for Paul Cortez, as well as themselves, to see that Paul Cortez is afforded a fair and proper attempt to prove his innocence.