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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Wanna Confess? Call Montel

March 25, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

You say you want to be a television star? You need the attention? You crave the attention? But you're a nobody, a small fry no one knows or cares about?

Don't despair. You can still have your moment of fame in front of the camera. There's always "The Montel Williams Show."

Here's the plan: Contact the syndicated daytime talk series by calling the New York 800 number it lists on the screen. Ask for the producers. If there's resistance, mention that you have an incredible story that Williams will desperately want to put on TV, but that if he isn't interested you'll contact Sally Jessy or Oprah or Phil or Geraldo. Then you deliver the whammy.

You're a serial rapist.

Your story is that you've raped more than 90 women in a two-year period, that you know it's wrong, but you can't stop yourself. Maybe others will stop you. So you want to confess on national television, with Williams as your confessor.

Yes, yes, it's bizarre. You're groaning because you don't believe that anyone would fall for it, that anyone would be dense enough--or irresponsible enough--to grant you airtime based on such an unproved story. It would never work. Why would it work?

Because this is television, dummy.

You're still not convinced. After all, Williams is a powerful TV host with a big staff that would check you out. If you've raped so many women, surely at least some of them would have blabbed. Reports would have been made, investigations made. The cops would have records. You'd be exposed as a fraud. Nah, it would never work.

Ah, but here's the genius of the plan. The victims, the more than 90 women you claim to have raped? Your story is that all of them were prostitutes, women who wouldn't be expected to press charges or even complain to police about being sexually assaulted. So no paper trail. You're home free.

And what if the producers still hesitate? Then play your ace: You're not just any serial rapist. You're a serial rapist who is HIV positive.

Congratulations. You've just made it to "The Montel Williams Show." Where do we send the limo?

Is that roughly how the man--whom police identify as 37-year-old Jerome Stanfield of Baltimore--earned himself a shot with Williams titled "Confessions of a Self-Proclaimed Serial Rapist," a two-parter that aired Monday and Tuesday (on KCOP-TV Channel 13 locally)? Is "Jerome," as he was identified by Williams, a phony?

We don't know. The problem is that "The Montel Williams Show" doesn't know, either. But Jerome does. Immediately after taping the two segments on March 16, he changed his story and told authorities he hadn't raped anyone.

Minor detail. When the prospect of compelling television looms--television that feeds our terror over violent crime--worries about possible misinformation are elbowed into the background. So "Confessions of a Self-Proclaimed Serial Rapist" hit the airwaves as scheduled.

"The show is not doing this to make a statement as far as this man's guilt or innocence," a Williams spokesperson said. In other words, if you've got an exploitable story, even a nut cake's one that can't be verified, we'll put it on. But only after doing the responsible thing by checking to see if your name, age and address are correct (which the Williams show said it did with Stanfield).

Misinformation? "Hoax" is the word applied to this spectacle by Officer Doug Price, spokesman for the police in Baltimore, the city where, Stanfield told Williams and a national TV audience, he terrorized prostitutes.

"I raped over 90 prostitutes at gunpoint and knifepoint," Stanfield said, convincingly. "Something inside would say I have to do this." He was joined on stage later by a woman identified as his sister, a defense attorney, a former hooker who claimed to have been raped by a number of men (but not Stanfield) and someone from Johns Hopkins University, an institution that Stanfield said had treated him for depression.

Williams said Jerome told him he had not raped since learning in 1992 that he was HIV positive. But he could rape again, said Williams, obviously frustrated. "I have a man here on the stage who says 'I want help, I want you to get me off the street, I want you to stop me from doing this,' and we can't even put him in jail. We can't lock him up. Why?"

One reason is Stanfield now says he didn't do it, and police say they have no evidence of him, or anyone else, doing what he says he did.

Part 2 of "Confessions of a Self-Proclaimed Serial Rapist" ended with a flourish. Williams urged Stanfield to get help. After hesitating, Stanfield said he would. Williams then summoned his own security men, who escorted Jerome up the center aisle of the packed Times Square studio as the audience applauded. Then came a shot of Stanfield being greeted downstairs by a man who identified himself as a New York City police detective, then a shot of a car speeding away, and the sound of a police siren, then a shot of Williams, getting a standing ovation from his studio audience.

Very dramatic.

*

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