Too Despicable for the Blue Wall of Silence

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When the blue wall of silence broke, it was all over for New York City police officer Justin Volpe. The witnesses for the prosecution had badges, and they had stories to tell: Volpe leading Haitian immigrant Abner Louima into a bathroom, Volpe boasting about having sodomized Louima with a stick, Volpe brandishing said stick, Volpe returning bloodstained gloves to a fellow officer in the NYPD. And so Volpe's lawyer, local star Marvin Kornberg, never even presented a defense, and the disgraced cop is pleading guilty to all charges. He faces 25 years to life -- and will probably get more rather than less. "Besides the sheer awfulness of what he did, Volpe really didn't give the government any reason for leniency," says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "Generally, giving up when your defense has fallen apart doesn't get you much in the way of mercy."

But the trial won't end with Volpe's guilty plea -- there are four officers left to go. Two stand accused of beating Louima before Volpe took over, one of covering up afterward, and one, Charles Schwarz, of holding Louima down while Volpe went to work. Which is where Volpe, the "Devil in a Blue Suit" of demonstrators' placards, may reenter the negotiations. "We may now hear from Volpe as to what Schwarz did or didn't do during the incident," says Cohen. "That's the only thing he has to offer prosecutors." Once the blue wall falls, anyone can get crushed under it.