- Central Park Five: What to know about the jogger rape case
- Growing up
- Matias Reyes’s early attacks
- The 1989 Central Park Jogger attack
- Getting caught
- Confessing to the Central Park Jogger rape
- Where is Matias Reyes today?
- There’s much more to Linda Fairstein’s story
- Trisha Meili Shares How Running Helped Her Heal After Being Brutally Raped Mid-Run 30 Years Ago
- What Does Trisha Meili Think Of ‘When They See Us’? The Assault Survivor Remains Skeptical Of The Central Park Five
- Log In
- Central Park Five: The true story behind When They See Us
- The role of Donald Trump
- The real criminal
- What has happened now?
- What has the reaction been?
- The jogger
- A NIGHT OF TERROR
- TRIAL BY MEDIA
- TRUMP CALLS FOR DEATH
- HOW DO FALSE CONFESSIONS OCCUR?
- INJUSTICE FOR ALL
Central Park Five: What to know about the jogger rape case
The infamous Central Park Five case has gotten the Netflix treatment.
The streaming service has released a limited series about the five teens who were wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a woman jogger in Central Park in 1989.
Although their convictions were vacated in 2002, the lives of the five teens were irrevocably changed as they spent their formative adult years behind bars.
Scroll down to learn more about the Central Park Five now that “When They See Us” is streaming.
What is the Central Park jogger case?
On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili went for a jog in Central Park. Several hours later, the 28-year-old investment banker was found brutally beaten and raped, left to die in a ravine.
But the near-fatal attack on Meili, who suffered a fractured skull among other life-threatening injuries, was only one of several that took place in Central Park that night. A roaming group of more than 30 youths between the ages of 13 and 17 were suspected of assaulting other joggers, throwing rocks at bicyclists and harassing an elderly homeless man.
Investigators immediately grouped Meili’s assault in with the other reported attacks and began lengthy police interrogations of several teens who were suspected of being part of the group.
While Meili fought for her life at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan, police charged seven teenagers in connection with the crimes.
Meili, who was commonly referred to as the “Central Park jogger,” has said she does not remember the attack.
Who are the Central Park Five?
The Central Park Five are Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise, who later changed his first name to Korey. At the time of their arrests, they were between the ages of 14 and 16 years old.
While all five had initially confessed to participating in the Central Park attacks (confessions from Wise, McCray, Santana and Richardson were videotaped), the teens and their attorneys insisted they were coerced by investigators into giving false statements during interrogations that lasted hours.
In a 2016 op-ed published by The Washington Post, Salaam claimed the interrogators deprived him and the other teens of food, drink and sleep for over 24 hours.
Despite inconsistencies within the confessions and no physical evidence tying them to the crime scene, the teens were convicted of various charges during two separate trials in 1990.
The two other teens who had been arrested, Steven Lopez and Michael Briscoe, pleaded guilty to charges related to other attacks on joggers that night and avoided trials related to Meili’s assault.
What were the Central Park Five convicted of?
Salaam, Santana and McCray were found guilty of rape, assault, robbery and riot in the attack on Meili as well as separate assaults on two male joggers. Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, assault and robbery in connection those same attacks.
Wise was convicted of sexual abuse and assault in connection with Meili’s attack, but was acquitted of all counts related to the other two joggers.
What were the sentences of the Central Park Five?
McCray, Salaam and Santana were sentenced to 5 to 10 years in an upstate juvenile detention facility. Richardson also was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in a juvenile facility.
Wise, the only teen tried as an adult, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.
The Central Park Five served between 5 and 12 years but all of them had been released before their convictions were vacated in 2002.
Who is Matias Reyes?
Despite maintaining their innocence, the Central Park Five’s contention that their confessions were coerced didn’t gain credibility until June 2002, when Matias Reyes claimed sole responsibility for raping and beating Meili.
Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, was serving a minimum 33-year prison sentence when he confessed to the crime. His DNA matched genetic material found at the crime scene and he provided details of the assault that led investigators to take his claim seriously.
Reyes also committed a similar assault on a woman in Central Park two days before Meili was found.
The NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office then began separate reinvestigations of the Central Park jogger case.
Reyes, meanwhile, could not be tried in the case because the statute of limitations had expired.
The Central Park Five are exonerated
Twelve years after they were found guilty, Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana and Wise were vindicated.
Following a lengthy investigation into the convictions, then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau recommended in December 2002 that all charges against the Central Park Five be thrown out. Later that month, a judge set aside the verdicts.
It was a stunning turn of events that was denounced by police officials who were critical of the findings in the district attorney’s second investigation but hailed by criminal justice advocates who had supported the Central Park Five’s innocence.
In his ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada said Reyes’ confession, corroborated by his DNA match from the crime scene, created “the probability that … the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendants.”
Tejada did allow for a new trial against the Central Park Five, but the district attorney’s office instead decided to dismiss the original indictments.
Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana and Wise had already completed their sentences before their convictions were vacated.
In 2014, the Central Park Five settled a civil lawsuit against the city for $41 million.
Is there a connection between Wise and Reyes?
As part of the city’s settlement with the Central Park Five, a trove of documents and recordings related to the investigation was released in 2018, including a recording of Reyes speaking with authorities from 2002, The New York Daily News reported.
During the interview, Reyes tells a senior investigator with the Department of Corrections Inspector General’s office that he changed his life while serving time and had found Jesus, which ultimately lead him to confess. He says he knew Wise, who was serving his sentence in the same prison, and four others were convicted in the case but feared what would happen if he came forward: “There was a thing in the back of my head that was saying, ‘You don’t know what this kid has gone through in twelve years of his life.’ “
Police and prosecutors involved in the case, however, believe Reyes made the confession after Wise approached him and told him to take responsibility for the attack, The Daily News reported. One cop involved in the case told the newspaper he and other detectives believe Wise and the rest of the Central Park Five attacked Meili and Reyes later came upon her and raped her.
Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor who led the district attorney’s sex crimes office during the case, suggested a similar theory in 2002, insisting that Reyes’ DNA evidence “does not exonerate the other five, who by their own admissions participated in her attack by holding her down and striking her to the ground,” Time magazine reported.
The Trump connection
Long before his political aspirations were made known to the world, Donald Trump took a personal interest in the Central Park jogger case. Just days after the attack, the billionaire entrepreneur took out full-page ads in four major New York City newspapers that said, “bring back the death penalty, bring back our police!” The ad went on to make a case for the reinstatement of the death penalty so that the Central Park Five could be executed for their alleged crimes.
Trump still refuses to admit he was wrong about the Central Park Five case.
“They admitted their guilt,” he said on June 18 outside of the White House in response to a question posed by CNN’s April Ryan. “If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should have never of settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.”
The comments are eerily similar to a statement Trump provided to CNN in October 2016 while he was campaigning for president.
“They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” Trump said in the statement. “The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”
In his 2016 Washington Post op-ed, Salaam said Trump never apologized for calling for the teens’ deaths and his new statements proved his “bias, racism and inability to admit that he’s wrong.”
What we know about the Netflix special
A limited series about the Central Park Five is now available. “When They See Us” (formerly “Central Park Five”) was directed by Ava DuVernay.
The cast includes two actors — one older and one younger — for each main character, except for the role of Wise:
- Chris Chalk (“12 Years a Slave”) and Ethan Herisse play Salaam
- Justin Cunningham and Asante Blackk portray Richardson
- Jovan Adepo (“The Leftovers”) and Caleel Harris play McCray
- Freddy Miyares and Marquis Rodriguez portray Santana Jr.
- Jharrel Jerome (“Moonlight”) pulls double duty as the older and younger Wise
And in supporting roles:
- Felicity Huffman plays Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor who led the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes office during the case
- John Leguizamo plays Santana’s father
- Michael K. Williams plays McCray’s father
- Vera Farmiga plays Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer
This isn’t the first time Hollywood has immortalized the case. A documentary film — “The Central Park Five,” by directors Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon — was released in 2012.
- The so-called “Central Park Five” were wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989.
- In reality, the attack was committed by serial rapist Matias Reyes.
- As shown in Emmy-nominated Netflix series When They See Us, Matias confessed to the Central Park Jogger rape in 2002 and the other men were exonerated.
Ever since the May 31 release of Netflix’s wildly popular miniseries When They See Us, the real-life story of the so-called “Central Park Five” has shot back into the spotlight. But the wrongful conviction of these five black and Latino men (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise), as seen in the Emmy-nominated series, begs the question: Who really committed the horrendous crime in the Central Park Jogger case?
This question is answered by one of the most striking moments in the series: when Korey, after serving more than a decade in prison, crosses paths with convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes. Seemingly moved by their encounter, Matias goes to the police and confesses to being the true, lone attacker in the Central Park Jogger rape — and DNA confirms his admission.
Let’s take a look back at the rapist’s reign of terror in New York City — and where Central Park rapist Matias Reyes is today:
According to his 1991 interview with psychologist N. G. Berrill, Matias Reyes was born in Puerto Rico in 1971. He claimed he moved to New York with his mother before they ultimately went their separate ways when Matias was 15 or 16 years old. He also claimed he suffered sexual abuse as a young boy, before going on to commit violent crimes himself.
Even as a child growing up in the school system, he exhibited violent behavior.
“Even as a child growing up in the school system, he exhibited violent behavior,” Richard Siracusa, one of his court-appointed lawyers, told The New York Times in 2002. “To the average person, he would seem perfectly normal, but he was far from normal.”
Matias Reyes attends his trial for the murder of one woman and the rapes of multiple women. Getty Images
Matias Reyes’s early attacks
Matias was only a teenager when his brutal crime spree began. In 1988, when he was just 17, he committed his first attempted rape, holding a 27-year-old woman at knife-point as he threatened to assault her. This woman was able to talk Matias out of raping her, and she walked away unharmed. His future victims were not so lucky.
In April 1989, just before the widely publicized Central Park Jogger attack, Matias began beating and raping another 26-year-old woman in the northern part of Central Park. Mid-assault, he was spotted by passersby and fled from the scene.
The victim of this brutal assault later told police that her attacker had what appeared to be fresh stitches on his chin. And after putting out an inquiry to local hospitals, the sex crimes investigator on the case got a name: Matias Reyes. Unfortunately, that investigator was moved off the case shortly thereafter — and the victim moved away from from the city, never to be heard from by the New York Police Department again. Matias walked away without punishment.
Yusef Salaam, one of the wrongfully convicted Central Park Five, walks into a New York court for his 1990 trial in the Central Park Jogger case. New York Daily News ArchiveGetty Images
The 1989 Central Park Jogger attack
Two days later, on April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old white investment banker named Trisha Meili was out jogging in Central Park when she was attacked in a similar fashion. Having been brutally raped and beaten (she suffered several skull fractures and a severe loss of blood), the Central Park Jogger, as she would soon become known, was left for dead in a park ravine. Four hours later, she was found, and the search for her attacker — or attackers — began.
As is shown in the Netflix’s Ava Duvernay-directed miniseries When They See Us, five young black and Latino boys named Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise were ultimately accused of committing the violent crime against the Central Park Jogger. The first four boys were sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility, and the fifth boy (16-year-old Korey) was five to 15 years in an adult prison. DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime didn’t match any of the five teens, but it made no difference — the general public had already decided them to be guilty.
Meanwhile, the true perpetrator of the crime, Matias (who was working as a deli clerk and living out of a van at the time), was free to keep committing his terrifying and violent crimes.
Murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes is taken to the 82nd Street police station in Manhattan for booking in 1989. Getty Images
Matias would continue on a spree of rapes and assaults — earning him the nickname “East Side Slasher” — until he was finally caught on August 5, 1989. That afternoon, he broke into a 24-year-old woman’s apartment before proceeding to rape her and ransack her home. Eventually, she was able to escape and run down to the lobby of her building, where she quickly explained to a porter and a fellow tenant what had just happened to her. When Matias followed the woman down the stairs, the men held him down until police arrived.
It didn’t take long for police to connect Matias to a series of other crimes in the area, and under interrogation, he confessed to one murder, five rapes, and two attempted rapes. He went to trial not long thereafter, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 33 years to life in prison.
Actor Reece Noi plays Matias Reyes in Netflix’s miniseries When They See Us. Netflix
Confessing to the Central Park Jogger rape
Through all of his initial questioning, Matias never once mentioned his connection to the Central Park Jogger case. In fact, it wasn’t until he met Korey Wise in prison that he even considered owning up to this particular crime.
Matias and Korey first crossed paths at the infamous Rikers Island jail, where they got into a scuffle over a TV. Then, more than a decade later, they found themselves in the same prison once again: this time, the Auburn Correctional Facility.
I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.
For whatever reason, after this second chance meeting, Matias felt moved to go to the police with the truth and in 2002, he admitted to being the lone attacker in the Central Park Jogger case. In a confession tape obtained by the New York Daily News, Matias put it this way: “I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime. I’ve asked myself that question. At first, I was afraid, but at the end of the day I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.”
DNA evidence and Matias’s knowledge of details of the Central Park Jogger rape ultimately confirmed his guilt, and the Manhattan District Attorney at the time, Robert Morgenthau, had Korey released from prison and the Central Park Five vacated of all charges.
Where is Matias Reyes today?
Ultimately, Matias could not be convicted of the Central Park Jogger rape because of the statute of limitations on the crime. He’s still in prison today for his earlier murder, however — and although he will be eligible for parole in 2022, he’s likely to stay incarcerated.
To this day, the supervising prosecutor of the Central Park Five case, Linda Fairstein, maintains that the interrogation and trial methods used under her watch in the Central Park Jogger case were fair and lawful. And despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, she stands by her conviction that Antron, Kevin, Yusef, Raymond, and Korey participated in the 1989 attack: “I think Reyes ran with that pack of kids,” Linda told The New Yorker in 2002.
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Learn More Heather Finn Content Strategy Editor Heather Finn is the content strategy editor at Good Housekeeping, where she heads up the brand’s social media strategy and covers entertainment news on everything from ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ to Netflix’s latest true crime documentaries.
On the night of April 19, 1989, 28-year-old banker Trisha Meili was on a jog in Manhattan’s Central Park. Wearing headphones during her daily exercise, Meili wasn’t able to hear two men approaching her from before and subsequently hitting her over the head with a tree branch.
Knocked unconscious, the 28-year-old was dragged, raped, beaten and left for dead. Hours later, two individuals found Meili, tied up with her own shirt with severe lacerations. The attack left her with a fractured skull and she lost nearly 80 percent of her blood.
Taken to the Metropolitan Hospital, doctors suspected Meili wouldn’t survive, or if she did, the young woman would live the remainder of her life in a vegetative state. However, after 12 days in a coma, Meili awoke but with zero memory of the attack.
Despite discrepancies in the timeline and no DNA evidence, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — the young men who would soon become known as the Central Park Five — were suspected and charged with the heinous attack.
Meili’s identity was kept under wraps. Known simply as the “Central Park Jogger,” she testified twice throughout the 1990 trial. The five teenagers were found guilty and sentenced to 10-15 years in prison. In 2002, over 10 years after the trial, inmate Mathias Reyes came forward claiming he was the one he orchestrated the attack. His confession was confirmed by DNA evidence
The five men who had been convicted of the rape had their convictions vacated, despite having spent as many as a dozen years in prison. They sued the city in 2003, and in 2014 — a full quarter century after the original attack — they received a $41 million settlement for their wrongful conviction.
While the focus of the Central Park Five story has often focused — with good reason — on the trial, the ensuing appeals and exonerations of the young men wrongly convicted of the crime, the victim has also tried to make sure her story was known.
Meili published a memoir in 2003, I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility. Currently, the now 58-year-old works with survivors of sexual assault at Mount Sinai Hospital and Gaylord Hospital, according to a Refinery 29 report.
“I do wish the case hadn’t been settled,” Meili told ABC News’ 20/20 in January. “I wish that it had gone to court because there’s a lot of information that’s now being released that I’m seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors…. They treated me with such dignity and respect.”
Meili has not regained her memory of the brutal attack but has remained skeptical of Reyes’ claim that he acted alone.
“I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA,” she said in the ABC interview. “So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn’t a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that’s when some of the turmoil started, wondering ‘Well, how can that be?'”
Trisha Meili, known to millions as the Central Park jogger who 14 years ago was beaten, raped and left to die, is applauded at the Sexual Assault Education Center’s 2nd annual Author’s Luncheon April 10, 2003 in Stamford, Connecticut. Getty
When They See Us is now streaming on Netflix.
In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City finally settled with the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers who were convicted and later exonerated in connection with the rape and brutal assault on a jogger.
“They spent a lot of their lives in jail, in prison, wrongly,” de Blasio said at a news conference at that time. “We have an obligation to turn the page. We have an obligation to do something fair for them, for the whole city to turn the page and move forward.”
But the settlement remains a decision that Trisha Meili — the jogger in that horrific attack — says the city should not have made. And the police and prosecutors involved in the case agree.
Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday, May 24, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
“I so wish the case hadn’t been settled,” Meili told ABC News’ “20/20” in January. “I wish that it had gone to court because there’s a lot of information that’s now being released that I’m seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors. … They treated me with such dignity and respect.”
A group of teens take over Central Park
Meili always wanted to work in New York, and she loved Central Park. In April 1989 she was working as a banker at Salomon Brothers in New York City.
“It was a sense of accomplishment, and I was devoted to it,” she told ABC News’ “20/20.”
On the night of April 19, 1989, she worked until 8 p.m. and then headed to her home on the East Side. Moments after she had returned home, she was back outside, running toward Central Park. It was a routine she followed probably four to five days a week, she said.
But at the same time that she was headed out for her run, police were scrambling to respond to calls about 30 to 40 teens who were harassing people in the park.
“People were punched in the face and pulled off their bicycles and robbed of their watches. I mean, it was kind of a crazy series of incidents that took place in the park,” recalled former newspaper columnist Ken Auletta.
Meanwhile, Meili was continuing her nightly jog.
“I would run to the park, usually entering at the 84th Street entrance just by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” she recalled. “I would go to the 102nd Street cross drive that would go from the East Drive of the park over the West Drive of the park.”
A little before midnight, her body was found by two men, in a ravine about 50 feet from the 102nd Street cross path.
“Trish Meili not conscious, barely, barely alive,” said Linda Fairstein, who was chief of the district attorney’s office at the time.
Meili, who had been raped and brutally beaten, was taken to a hospital. She had no memory of what happened.
“She had blunt trauma,” said surgeon Dr. Bob Kurtz, who treated Meili. “They didn’t know if she would survive. She looked like a little waif in the bed. No one knew who she was yet.”
Plastic surgeon Dr. Jane Haher told ABC News’ “20/20” that she’s never forgotten that day.
Meili’s left eye had been crushed in. The force of the blow to her face was so strong that her eyeball had exploded into the thin plates of her orbital floor, Haher said.
“I had several skull fractures and there were deep lacerations,” said Meili.
The police question five teens
While Meili was in the hospital, with doctors unsure if she would live or die, New York authorities were charging five teenagers who had been held in connection with the Central Park assaults with her attack. The teens — Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Antron McCray — eventually became known as the “Central Park Five.”
Prosecutors had no DNA and little evidence that matched the teenagers to the crime, the attack, or the scene. But each teenager — except for Salaam — had made statements or open confessions about Meili’s attack, implicating themselves or each other.
“Kevin Richardson had a scratch under his eye, so the detectives asked him, ‘How did you get the scratch under your eye?'” said former New York City detective Eric Reynolds. Richardson replied on the videotaped interrogation:
Richardson: I got in the way. She got kind of like scratched me a little bit.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer: Let me just ask you, you’re saying that she scratched you and you’re indicating a place on your face?
Richardson: Yeh, I think it’s on me right here.
Meili was in a coma for about a week in the hospital before she finally opened her eyes.
“You had children, schoolchildren showing up and holding vigils outside,” said former reporter and professor Natalie Byfield. “Cardinal (John) O’Connor made a visit there. Frank Sinatra sent her flowers.”
Kurtz, the surgeon, said Meili “woke up and looked around and saw the flowers and said, you know, ‘Holy smoke. What’s going on? Why is Frank Sinatra sending me flowers?’”
Meili said she watched some of the videotapes of the teens’ statements and confessions.
“It is very, very hard watching someone describe how people beat me, how people were trying to stop my screaming by beating my face,” she said.
When the first trial began in August 1990 against Salaam, Santana and McCray, Meili agreed to testify. On the witness stand, she talked about what her normal running practices had been and what she had been wearing that night.
“I remember I was very nervous,” she said. “I thought, ‘I know I have no memory but I wanted people to know the condition that I had been in.'”
After 10 days of deliberations, Salaam, Santana and McCray, all 16 years old at the time, were convicted of rape, assault and robbery in the attack on Meili. After a separate trial, in December 1990, Wise was found guilty of sexual abuse, first degree assault and riot. Richardson was also found guilty on all charges.
McCray, Richardson, Santana and Salaam got five to 10 years in prison as juveniles. Wise was sentenced to five to 15 as an adult.
A serial rapist comes forward
With the trials over, Meili — believing her attackers were behind bars — ran the New York City Marathon in 1995.
“I felt so proud of the hard work that had gotten me there ’cause it was hard. I mean, I worked hard,” she told “20/20.” “And in that moment, I realized or I felt that I had reclaimed my park. … It was so exhilarating.”
In 2002, 13 years after the Central Park attack and with four of the Central Park Five out of prison, convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes came forward and said he was Meili’s sole attacker.
He had met Wise earlier when they were both at New York’s Rikers Island jail, and then later had seen him at a prison upstate. Reyes, who has doing 33 years to life for a murder-rape conviction, reached out to police, who were able to match his DNA to the DNA at the Central Park crime scene.
Reyes also knew some details about Meili and the crime that had never been released and that only the person who had been there could know. Reyes, who had been given the nickname “East Side Rapist” for a series of violent rapes along Madison Avenue in the spring and summer of 1989, had also attacked a woman in the park a few days prior to — and not far from — the April 19 attack on Meili.
“I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA,” Meili said. “So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn’t a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that’s when some of the turmoil started, wondering ‘Well, how can that be?'”
Meili and doctors Kurtz and Haher said there was medical evidence to support the charge that more than one person was responsible for her attack. Her injuries were different from what Reyes claimed as the sole attacker, Meili said.
“There were hand prints pressed into her skin that looked red in outline,” Kurtz said.
Haher said the hand prints were of different sizes as well.
“It looks like, to me, more than one person doing that,” Haher said.
The Central Park Five’s convictions are vacated
In 2002, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau withdrew all charges against the Central Park Five, and their convictions were vacated. Wise, who was still in prison at the time, was released early. The group sued in 2003 and after a decade-long standstill, the lawsuit was settled for $41 million. The city, however, did not admit to any misconduct by its police department or prosecutors.
“The five of them went to Central Park to beat up people and they ended up with millions of dollars and they’re heroes and civil rights icons,” Reynolds said. “It’s appalling.”
Meili now works with survivors of brain injuries, sexual assault, and other kinds of trauma.
“I believe they gain strength, too, to move forward,” she said.
There’s much more to Linda Fairstein’s story
Linda Fairstein, left, at a news conference in New York in March 1988. (Charles Wenzelberg/AP) By Sarah Weinman June 14, 2019
Sarah Weinman is the author of “The Real Lolita.”
The month of June has not been kind to Linda Fairstein, the former head of the sex-crimes division of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Since Ava DuVernay’s limited Netflix series “When They See Us” debuted on May 31, the prosecutor-turned-bestselling crime writer has been under fire for her role in shaping the prosecution of the group of wrongfully convicted teens who became known as the Central Park Five. (I know Fairstein slightly through the world of crime writing.) Dutton, her longtime book publisher, and ICM Partners, her longtime agency, both dropped her, and social media campaigns spurred her to resign from the boards of the victims’ resource group Safe Horizon and Vassar College.
Fairstein’s fall is the result of a long-overdue public reckoning with New York’s response to the 1989 rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili, the crime for which the Five were wrongly imprisoned. In measuring the cost of that case, it isn’t simply that Fairstein played a role in pursuing the wrong suspects. It’s that, as I wrote earlier this month, other women were assaulted, raped, and in one instance, murdered by Matias Reyes, the man solely responsible for the attack on Meili. The New York Police Department and the prosecutor’s office failed these women, some of whom were attacked after Meili, because they believed, incorrectly, that Meili was just one victim of a crime wave taking place in Central Park that night.
Our reckoning also needs to go beyond the Central Park jogger case. Fairstein joined an unjust system in the 1970s and, at first, she helped revolutionize certain aspects of that system. But, as our ideas about the criminal-justice system evolved, hers did not. Neither the excoriating op-ed Fairstein wrote in her own defense, nor Felicity Huffman’s villainous portrayal of her in “When They See Us” captures the full arc of what happened to Fairstein — and why it matters for the rest of us.
Fairstein began her career in public service on the cusp of a major change in thinking about sex crimes. In 1972, the same year Fairstein joined the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the state of New York finally changed a long-standing law that required sexual-assault victims to have at least one witness who could corroborate the identity of the assailant; in 1974, the state also dropped the requirement that another witness corroborate the nature of the attack. In 1971, 2,415 rapes were reported to the city, leading to a single felony rape conviction. Sexual assault among acquaintances and loved ones was hardly considered to be rape, let alone a criminal offense to prosecute.
As Fairstein told a reporter in 1990, for a profile with the headline “Linda Fairstein vs. Rape”: “If someone walked out of my office and had her purse stolen and then was raped by the assailant,” her testimony would be enough to convict him of stealing her purse, but not of the more serious crime committed against her. It would take until 1975 to pass New York’s so-called rape shield law, barring defendants from bringing up a woman’s sexual history as evidence in a rape trial involving a stranger. It took even longer to establish that it was improper to invoke prior consensual sex between a suspect and a victim as a defense against rape. Marital rape wasn’t considered to be a crime in all 50 states until 1993.
Sexual assault wasn’t taken seriously as a crime by the law itself. Many cops and prosecutors had attitudes that were cavalier and victim-blaming at best, and outright grotesque at worst. Thanks to the work of Fairstein and other sex-crimes-focused prosecutors and police officers, those attitudes began to change. Slowly, if stubbornly, the holdouts began to understand that victims should not be blamed for their behavior; that there is no such thing as a “typical” rape victim; and that anyone can be a rapist, not merely a random, violent stranger.
These insights were critically important. But Fairstein’s pursuit of justice for victims of sexual assault didn’t take into account newer developments in how we understand the criminal-justice system to work — or not work. The idea that eyewitness testimony is the “gold standard” has been disproved with every exoneration as a result of DNA evidence. The emphasis on confessions has had to take into account that confessions can be coerced — and that inconsistencies, such as the ones in the Central Park Five’s varying accounts of the evening, really do matter. And the recognition that black and brown men and boys are disproportionately funneled into the prison system made it vital that we measure justice in more holistic terms.
By the time Trisha Meili was attacked in 1989, Fairstein had long been focused on making it possible to prosecute the kind of violent, unwitnessed rapes by strangers that had so long eluded conviction. In April 1974, she told the Los Angeles Times, “We see the case of the girl dragged into the park by four young men and raped.” In her pursuit of justice for Meili, Fairstein didn’t seem to recognize that she herself, and other prosecutors such as her, could commit other injustices along the way.
As Rolling Stone columnist Jamil Smith rightly pointed out, there are Linda Fairsteins in every city. Canceling Fairstein herself may be emotionally satisfying. But it doesn’t account for the very real change she helped bring about. And without concerted effort and work, it won’t prevent other prosecutors from making the same terrible decisions that inflicted such a dreadful cost on the Central Park Five and on Matias Reyes’s other victims.
Anne Gray Fischer: Linda Fairstein is under fire for the Central Park Five. But another part of her career deserves greater scrutiny.
Carl Suddler: How the Central Park Five expose the fundamental injustice in our legal system
On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili went out on her regular evening run through Central Park after a 12-hour day of work on Wall Street.
“It was a time in my life where I had become compulsive about running,” Meili tells Shape exclusively. “It was definitely to the point where it was a little unhealthy. I needed to run or exercise in some way every day and it didn’t matter what day or time it was. I just knew I had to do it.”
That night, Meili never finished her workout. Instead, her body was found, four hours later, in a shallow ravine in a wooded area of the park-naked, gagged, tied up, and covered in mud and blood. She was rushed to the hospital where she spent the next 12 days in a coma fighting for her life. When she awoke, Meili had no memory of what had happened to her-but her life had changed forever.
Police and physical examiners determined that while Meili was running, she had been knocked down, dragged or chased nearly 300 feet before she was violently raped, sodomized, and beaten to the brink of death. Seventy-five percent of the blood in her body had spilled onto the ground, and her face was broken into pieces. “She was beaten as badly as anybody I’ve ever seen beaten,” the first policeman to lay eyes on her reportedly said at the time. “She looked like she was tortured.” (Related: The Harsh Truth About Running Safety for Women)
Five local teens, who had committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies in the northernmost part of Central Park that night, were quickly arrested for the assault. Given Meili’s injuries, she wasn’t expected to survive, so the boys were initially charged with first-degree homicide.
Image zoom Photo: Achilles International
The news of the violent crime spread across the country like wildfire. The prosecution of the defendants was front-page news for months. President Trump, who was a real estate mogul at the time, even took out a $300,000 newspaper ad demanding the return of the death penalty in New York state in response to the case.
All five suspects, who by then were dubbed “The Central Park Five,” were convicted of assault, robbery, riot, and rape amongst other things and sentenced to between seven and 13 years in prison each-a sentence that many people felt wasn’t adequate, given what was done to Meili. (Related: I Was Groped While Running-and Yes, It’s a Big Deal)
That said, police and investigators never found a spot of DNA that linked the now-convicted felons to Meili’s attack. Even though some of the boys had confessed to witnessing the crime, this had always been a gaping hole in the case. It wasn’t until 2002-when most of the defendants had already served or were almost done serving their time in jail-that a convicted sex offender, who was serving a life sentence for murder and rape, confessed to attacking Meili.
He knew details from the attack that had never been publicized before, not to mention his DNA was a 100 percent match to the rape kit taken from Meili nearly a decade ago.
A couple of years later, in 2012, the quintet was acquitted for their crimes against Meili. Their wrongful conviction and unnecessary years spent in prison have been the center of huge debates about race, law enforcement, and our justice system. In May, Netflix releases a series When They See Us based on the story of the Central Park Five. Since then, it’s become Netflix’s most-watched program overall, viewed by more than 23 million accounts the day it premiered.
But even after all these years and the confession of the true perpetrator, no one truly knows exactly what happened that night in Central Park.
A Long Road to Recovery
There are times when Meili wishes she remembers what happened to her. “There’s been so much controversy around the case and if I remembered anything at all, maybe a lot of it could have been avoided,” she says. “But since I don’t remember, I don’t have flashbacks or nightmares, which I feel very blessed about.”
While her amnesia saved her from some long-term emotional trauma, Meili’s road to recovery has been anything but easy.
To start, she suffered from a traumatic brain injury that, along with amnesia, led to physical and cognitive dysfunction. “Twelve days after the attack, doctors declared that I was no longer in a coma,” she says. “But for the next five weeks, I was in and out of delirium and don’t remember anything. So for a total of seven weeks, I just don’t have any memory.”
The first thing Trisha remembers is waking up and seeing her then-boyfriend sitting at the foot of her bed. “I remember not feeling surprised that he was there and then I looked up and saw a nurse and remember asking her a question,” says Meili. “But my boyfriend at the time kept answering the question for her which made me mad and so I told him to shut up,” she laughed. “Turns out, I had been asking the nurse the same question over and over again without realizing, and he was just trying to give her a break. That should tell you how much I really knew about my situation or what had happened.”
Image zoom Photo: Achilles International
It wasn’t until days later that Meili started asking her family questions. No one had told her anything at that point, because the police wanted to see what she remembered. “My family could only avoid the inevitable for so long, so they called in a prosecutor who asked if I had any recollection of what had happened that night. It didn’t take her long to realize that I didn’t know anything.”
Meili spent seven weeks in the ICU recovering. “I started to understand the gravity of my physical injuries when I realized I couldn’t walk,” says Meili. “My body felt heavy and movement was slow like I was going through mud or something.”
But the terror of her situation didn’t sink in until she had her neurological exam. Meili remembers her therapist asking her to draw a picture of a clock showing two o’clock-and the Ivy Leaguer with two master’s degrees felt as though she’d been asked to do the impossible.
“I thought I couldn’t remember which hand was the big hand. And felt this incredible fear of, ‘Oh my God, I’m so stupid. I can’t do this.’ It was terrifying to realize that I wasn’t the same. It was the first time I felt that so much had been taken away from me.”
Learning to Run Again
After being discharged from the ICU, Meili was admitted to Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut for rehabilitation. “I really started remembering everything once I moved there,” she says. “The physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy is all very clear.”
While Meili realized she had a lot of work to do, she also started seeing progress. “I built an amazing support system that helped me focus on what I could do, rather than on my deficits,” she says.
Knowing that Meili had been a runner, one of her doctor’s introduced her to Achilles International, an organization dedicated to enabling people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events. There, she met a group of people like her, all with physical disabilities and one common goal: to complete a quarter-mile loop around the hospital. (Related: How Sexual Assault Survivors Are Using Fitness As Part of Their Recovery)
“At first, I thought that there was no way I’d ever be able to do that since just walking a few steps was so hard,” says Meili. “But there were people in the group who had more debilitating physical disabilities like spina bifida and amputations. So I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can too.'”
Image zoom Photo: Achilles International
So Meili began working toward that simple goal. “Without even realizing it at the time, exercise became an extremely important part of my recovery,” says Meili. “As I kept moving and becoming physically stronger, I began seeing a positive impact on my cognitive rehabilitation as well. Down the road, I was even involved in a study about how running and exercise can do wonders for those with traumatic brain injuries.” (Related: 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise)
On a hot day in August 1989, just three months after her attack, Meili was able to jog and walk the quarter-mile loop, alongside her physical therapist and five members from Achilles. It was a major milestone for her. “When I crossed the ‘finish line,’ a feeling of overwhelming accomplishment flooded through me,” she says. “For the first time since the attack, I felt a surge of hope, and it was a lot of fun! Accomplishing something like that in a community touches everyone in a unique way. It gave me this sense that I wasn’t alone, that I didn’t do anything wrong and I wasn’t to blame for what had happened to me. It was at that moment that I went from being a victim to a survivor.”
Returning to Central Park
Meili was at Gaylord for seven months, and by the end of her stay, she was running four to five miles comfortably. After completing treatment, she returned to New York and to her life. In some ways, nothing was ever going to be the same, and Meili had made peace with that. But it was also very important for her to get as close to “normal” as possible. The biggest step? Making the city feel like home again-and that meant returning to Central Park.
“I needed to make a statement,” she says. “Not to the world, but to myself. I wanted to prove that I could go back to my life the way it was and that I wasn’t going to live in fear.” (Related: Runners Are Using #MilesForMollie to Show That They’re Not Afraid)
So on a Sunday, a couple weeks after returning to the city, Meili headed to the park during the day with a friend who is also a priest. “It was important that I run the same route as I did that night and so many nights before,” she says. “When I got to the place of the attack, I saw that people had laid flowers and created a sort of a tribute to me and my story. Seeing that kind of support firsthand did wonders for my psychological healing,” she says. “It was a beautiful day.”
Becoming More Than the “Central Park Jogger”
Now, three decades after her attack, Meili has continued to heal and has made running an important part of her life. In 1994, she walked the TCS New York City Marathon and in 1995, she ran it. In 2003, she decided to reveal her identity and became a New York Times best-selling author of I Am the Central Park Jogger. She’s also contributed to The Courage to Go Forward: The Power of Micro Communities, a book written by David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, and Dick Traum, president and founder of Achilles International.
Meili has become a renowned public speaker, serving on the board of Gaylord, where she was once treated. But the work she’s most passionate about is motivating and empowering sexual assault survivors. “My hope is that by sharing my story, I can encourage survivors to accept that they are not to blame for the assault,” she says. “It’s not their fault but rather their perpetrator’s choice.”
She also hopes to empower more women to share their stories, and not necessarily in a public way. “There are organizations offering a safe environment all over the country, and hotlines where people will listen and not judge, providing an opportunity for a survivor to release all they have been holding deep inside,” she says. (Related: Real Stories of Women Who Were Sexually Harassed While Working Out)
Image zoom Photo: Angela Jimenez / Getty Images
“Soon after my book was published, I received a powerful email,” says Meili. “A woman told me she had been raped over 30 years before and was so ashamed she never told anyone. After reading my book, she confided to a close friend and, ‘felt a 1,000-pound weight drop from (her) shoulders.’ Just imagine carrying that sense of shame for so many years. Sharing provided a tremendous relief for her. I continue to witness the impact sharing has and feel it myself.”
It’s likely that Meili will always be known as the “Central Park Jogger.” Yet, what happened to her didn’t spark hatred, bitterness, or contempt. Instead, she’s used her journey to become a symbol of hope, perseverance, and tremendous strength-qualities that she will be remembered for the most.
If you or someone you love has experienced sexual violence, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
What Does Trisha Meili Think Of ‘When They See Us’? The Assault Survivor Remains Skeptical Of The Central Park Five
Netflix’s new series about the Central Park Five,When They See Us, follows the journeys of five teenagers wrongly accused of a terrible crime. After a white woman was brutally assaulted while jogging through Central Park in 1989, a nearby group of black and Hispanic boys found themselves at the center of a police investigation and a racist media whirlwind, and their lives were changed forever. But despite their disturbing stories, there’s another victim here, too — the Central Park Jogger herself. So what does Trisha Meili think of When They See Us?
It doesn’t appear that Meili, who remained anonymous until 2003, a year after the Central Park Five were exonerated due to DNA evidence, has given any explicit comments about When They See Us. Meili could not be reached for comment by Bustle. However, Meili has been relatively open about her feelings toward the Central Park Five. She’s said in recent interviews that she wishes the men had not received a settlement for their wrongful imprisonment — the group was granted $41 million from New York City in 2014.
“I so wish the case hadn’t been settled,” Meili told ABC News’ 20/20 earlier this year. “I wish that it had gone to court because there’s a lot of information that’s now being released that I’m seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors. … They treated me with such dignity and respect.” It’s unclear from 20/20’s article exactly what new information Meili was referring to.
Netflix on YouTube
Meili told the New York Daily News last year that she was “shocked and somewhat disgusted” by the settlement, and by the idea that the Central Park Five were treated unfairly by authorities. The men maintain that they were coerced into false confessions by police.
” really so disappointed that the case against the city claiming the detectives and prosecutor had acted improperly … that it was settled for what seems to me like a campaign promise from then-candidate Bill de Blasio,” Meili said. She also said she is still compelled by the original confessions of the Central Park Five and can’t be certain of their innocence.
Meili has additionally spoken out about the developments regarding her alleged true attacker. Not only did DNA evidence exonerate the Central Park Five after years of incarceration, but convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes actually later confessed to Meili’s attack. He said he was the sole culprit, an idea that has always given Meili pause.
Monica Schipper/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
“I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA,” Meili said in the same 20/20 interview. “So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn’t a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that’s when some of the turmoil started, wondering ‘Well, how can that be?'” Meili also told the Daily News that “the last thing I want is for innocent people to have been convicted,” but she does question Reyes’ confession, calling him “a pathological liar.”
Meili, who was raped, beaten, and lost three quarters of her blood during the attack, has gone on to find purpose after the tragedy. She wrote a book about the attack and her recovery, and she still runs. Meili also gives public talks and works with survivors of sexual assault. “My hope is that by sharing my story, I can encourage survivors to accept that they are not to blame for the assault,” she told Shape magazine last year. “It’s not their fault, but rather their perpetrator’s choice.”
If you haven’t watched Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us, or Ken Burns’s documentary The Central Park Five, you need to. Go ahead, grab some tissues. I’ll wait.
We good? What you just saw was a story of how gross prosecutorial misconduct and racism can lead to wrongful convictions. The story, sadly, is not just about those boys but about black and brown boys everywhere, and the dangers they face at the hands of a racist criminal-justice system, every time they leave their houses.
There is enough villainy to go around: The police, the media, Donald Trump—lots of society’s moving parts intersect to bring injustice upon children of color. But a consistent tool deployed against black and brown youths is the prosecutor’s office. You just can’t miscarry justice without it.
In the films, Linda Fairstein comes off as one of the principal villains. She was head of the sex-crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office at the time of the attack on Trisha Meili, the woman long known as the “Central Park jogger.” It was on her watch that Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, all 16 or under at the time, were rounded up. The boys were questioned without an attorney or parent present, tricked into false confessions, pre-tried in the court of public opinion, convicted, and sentenced for crimes they did not commit. She, as much as any single lawyer-type can be, is responsible for this legal travesty.
The Central Park Five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 after convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. Reyes went on to assault and rape many other people after the Central Park attack, before he was finally caught.
In real life, Fairstein appears to be an even worse person than she is portrayed to be. You’d think Fairstein would be inconsolable, ashamed, or just plain embarrassed after learning that her actions not only put five innocent boys in jail but also allowed the real perpetrator to go on raping people for that much longer. But, no, she’s not humiliated—she is defiant.
This week, The Wall Street Journal gave her editorial space to attack the Central Park Five again. It’s so very on-brand for the Journal to allow a disgraced prosecutor to write a soliloquy against people of color. That’s the kind of news we need so we can determine whether to hang on to our “unrepentant white supremacy” stocks for another day.
In her op-ed, unmitigated scientific evidence that she prosecuted the wrong people does not stop Fairstein from insinuating the boys still had something to do with Meili’s rape. She starts: “At about 9 p.m. April 19, 1989, a large group of young men gathered on the corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue for the purpose of robbing and beating innocent people in Central Park. There were more than 30 rioters, and the woman known as the ‘Central Park jogger,’ Trisha Meili, was not their only victim. Eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries.”
Do you see what she did there? Let me slow it down so we can all experience this fetid example of opening drivel prosecutors regularly shovel at juries.
First, she put the Central Park Five with the group of “young men” just outside the park. She didn’t specifically invoke their names as part of the group of young men. She can’t, because she can’t prove that they were there. There’s no physical evidence putting any of those five boys outside the park among a “large gathering” at 9 pm. But we know she’s talking about the Central Park Five, because this is her first sentence in her op-ed, titled “Netflix’s False Story of the Central Park Five.” We’re not stupid, right? We’re all supposed to know who she’s talking about even though she doesn’t name them.
Then she ascribes a motive to the gathering: the “robbing and beating of innocent people.” She can’t prove that either. There were a series of attacks in the park that night, but, as we learned, she can’t prove that some large gathering of “young men” (mostly teens) formed a common purpose outside the park at 9 pm to conduct those attacks in an unprovoked fashion. Much has been written about the police misinterpretation of the boys’ use of the word “wilin’”—which was slang at the time for “hanging out”—with “wildin’”—which is a term made up by police that’s supposed to indicate a conspiracy to commit random acts of violence. But, remember, Fairstein can’t prove that the Central Park Five were part of the alleged rampaging groupthink, even if one existed.
Then she specifies her terms, changing “large group” to “more than 30” and “young men” to “rioters.” Are you frightened yet? She’s counting on you to misinterpret increased specificity as additional facts.
Then she gives them a victim. Note that the first and only named victim is Trisha Meili, who we know was not raped by the Central Park Five. Doesn’t matter. Even though we know she was not raped by the Central Park Five, we’re now told Meili was “not the only victim” of the Central Park Five, whom Fairstein can’t name because she can’t establish they were even there as part of the rioters. She’s written two sentences, by the way, and has already subtly re-accused the boys of crimes she knows they did not commit.
Then she ramps up the body count. Eight victims, savage beatings, hospitalizations, head trauma! Just who are these monsters (we’re supposed to think) who maybe didn’t technically rape a woman that evening, but beat up and terrorized an entire park? Were they the Central Park Five? No. Remember she has no idea where those five boys were while this was all going down; it’s a huge park, and the boys claimed they were just hanging out. She can’t prove that they were part of the group of rioters, can’t prove that they participated in the riots, has no physical evidence of them laying a hand on Meili, and can’t prove that they touched any of the other victims either. In fact, the only thing Linda Fairstein can prove about the Central Park Five is that they were nonwhite and in Central Park at some point on the night of April 19.
Fairstein engages in this literary sleight of hand throughout her op-ed. She points out that 15 teenagers were apprehended, among them members of the Central Park Five. She offers this as proof that they did something, when an arrest is not proof of anything. She seamlessly transitions from picking nits with DuVernay’s dramatization of the story, and then attacking the innocence of the real-life men. Investigative journalist David Heath has a great thread on Twitter knocking down every one of Fairstein’s unfair conjectures based on his encyclopedic knowledge of the case file.
This is what prosecutors do. This is how wrongful convictions happen. We watch courtroom dramas and listen to true-crime podcasts and we think a trial is about evidence, but they’re really about narrative. In this case, you know Fairstein has no evidence. You know that the people she’s talking about were actually exonerated. And yet, in one opening paragraph, Fairstein has tapped into that most familiar of tropes: Them black folks were guilty of something; they had it coming, for one reason or another.
Good prosecutors construct an argument. Good writers construct a narrative. Fairstein is neither. She’s just constructing a smear. She is attacking these men, again, trying to revictimize them after already trying to ruin their lives, and The Wall Street Journal is letting her do it in their pages.
In a courtroom, as the prosecutor, Fairstein would have to convince people that the Central Park Five were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But in the Journal, she’s managed to invert her role. Now, she’s the one casting reasonable doubt on the innocence of the Central Park Five. She wants to make the exonerees the ones with the burden to prove their innocence.
Her theory is that the Central Park Five were part of a “pack” which participated in the attack on Meili and others, even if Reyes was the only one who physically participated in the rape. Her theory is wrong, but here’s the heart of her case in the op-ed:
Ms. DuVernay would have you believe the only evidence against the suspects was their allegedly forced confessions. That is not true. There is, for example, the African-American woman who testified at the trial—and again during the 2002 re-investigation—that when Korey Wise called her brother, he told her that he had held the jogger down and felt her breasts while others attacked her. There were blood stains and dirt on clothing of some of the five. And then there are the statements of more than a dozen of the other kids who participated in the park rampage. Although none of the others admitted joining in the rape of Trisha Meili, they admitted attacking male victims and a couple on a tandem bike, and each of them named some or all of the five as joining them.
This paragraph is a pile of garbage. The confessions weren’t “allegedly” forced, they were actually forced. We know that because of science. We know that because the real rapist, Reyes, says he acted alone, which lines up with the fact that he acted alone in his other rapes. We know that there’s no evidence Reyes knew any of the Central Park Five at the time of the attack, based on the 58-page motion to vacate the convictions of the Central Park Five filed by Fairstein’s boss in 2002. We know that any confessions to the contrary were fabricated. We know that the Central Park Five’s confessions contained inconsistencies with physical evidence of how the crime was committed, while Reyes’s confession included details unknown to the public. So, we know, and Fairstein knows, that her entire theory of the case that Meili was assaulted by a “pack” of boys which included the Central Park Five has been rejected by science, the real criminal, and her own prosecutor’s office.
And yet she resurfaces her phantasmagorical theory here.
Fairstein is full of it. She’s been full of it for 30 years. If The Wall Street Journal wanted to smear these guys again, they should have just let Donald Trump do it. At least that would have distracted him from ruining the rest of the country for a day.
I have no more questions for Linda Fairstein. It’s above me now. But I do have questions for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, if Cuomo can pull himself away from laughing at Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign long enough to look at other train wrecks. In March, the governor signed a bill creating a prosecutorial review board, empowered to review misconduct in the district attorney’s office and impose sanctions. Naturally, it’s being challenged by district attorneys.
The bill is a good first step, but until we see whether it has any teeth, it seems inadequate to deal with the problem. Linda Fairstein is not the only prosecutor to put innocent people behind bars. She wasn’t even the only prosecutor on this case. Elizabeth Lederer was the trial prosecutor who presided over this tragedy. She was every bit as complicit as Fairstein, and thus far has been every bit as unrepentant. She was quietly teaching at one of the best law schools in the country, Columbia Law School, until this week, when the shame of it all finally forced her and Columbia to part ways.
After leaving the prosecutor’s office, Fairstein became a crime novelist. I guess the Central Park Five case was good training for her in the art of making stuff up. Since the release of When They See Us, she’s been dropped by her publisher and removed from the board at Vassar.
But she’s not in jail. Lederer won’t be going there either. Documentaries and miniseries and state review boards are great for bringing about social shaming, but people like Fairstein will not truly pay for their crimes until we make what they did crimes.
Otherwise, they’ll keep doing it. Fairstein is, quite literally, continuing to try to prosecute the Central Park Five in the media. She used the legal system to destroy the lives of five people, and somehow that legal system still protects her from justice instead of protecting the Central Park Five from her or The Wall Street Journal.
A good-faith prosecutorial mistake is a tragedy. But what happened to the Central Park Five was not done out of an abundance of good faith. Fairstein’s continued attacks against them prove her lack of good faith. What she did to them, what she keeps doing to them, is not an accident. It is a crime.
A 28-year-old jogger who was raped and beaten so badly she lost 80 percent of her blood in New York City in the late 1980s, setting off a chain of events that impacted many lives. She became known as the “Central Park Jogger” and the five men, just boys, who were wrongly convicted in connection with her rape became known as the “Central Park 5.”
The new Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” shows how investigators honed in on five teen boys who happened to be in the park at the time of the rape: Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise. They all maintained their innocence and said they were coerced into confessing. They were exonerated in 2002 after the real rapist came forward and admitted to the crime. Matias Reyes, known as the “East Side Rapist,” admitting to being behind the rape and investigators matched his DNA to the DNA at the crime scene, according to ABC News.
The jogger, Trisha Meili kept her identity secret for fourteen years, until a year after the exonerations.
She was an investment banker with two Masters degrees under her belt when she went for a jog in Central Park on April 19, 1989.
Trisha Meili is interviewed Wednesday afternoon, April 9, 2003 at radio station WNYC. Photo: Associated Press/Richard Drew
Meili was wearing headphones when she was attacked, according to “The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One Of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes,” a book written in 2011 by Sarah Burns. She likely couldn’t hear her attacker approaching her and hitting her in the back of the head with a tree branch.
“Bleeding from the head, she was then dragged off the road to the north, through a grassy area, and then into the woods that began forty feet from the road,” the book states.
She was raped and beaten with a rock. Then, she was tied up with her own shirt and left to die.
Meili was barely alive when two passerbys found her. She was severely hurt, having had suffered several skull fractures and some deep lacerations. Her brain was swollen, and her body was jerking uncontrollably because of the injuries.
“I remember waking up in the hospital on a Friday evening late in May and a very good friend of mine was in the hospital room and so was a nurse,” she testified during the 1990 trial, according to a Los Angeles Times story from that time.
After about a week in a coma she woke up with no memory of what happened to her.
“She had blunt trauma,” surgeon Dr. Bob Kurtz, who treated Meili, told ABC News. “They didn’t know if she would survive. She looked like a little waif in the bed. No one knew who she was yet.”
In addition to the skull fractures, her left eye had been crushed. One of the blows to her face caused her eyeball to burst. Another result of the blows to her head: a traumatic brain injury which damaged her physical and cognitive functioning.
Meili spent seven weeks in the ICU recovering during the aftermath, she told Shape last year. “I started to understand the gravity of my physical injuries when I realized I couldn’t walk,” says Meili. “My body felt heavy and movement was slow like I was going through mud or something.”
When asked by a therapist to draw a picture of a clock, she couldn’t and that’s when she learned about her cognitive dysfunctioning.
“I thought I couldn’t remember which hand was the big hand,” she said. “And felt this incredible fear of, ‘Oh my God, I’m so stupid. I can’t do this.’ It was terrifying to realize that I wasn’t the same. It was the first time I felt that so much had been taken away from me.”
When she testified, as depicted in “When They See Us,” she had difficulty walking to the witness box. A court officer had to help her, grasping her elbow to keep her steady, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“I have problems with balance when I am walking and coordination at times as I am walking down the hall or down the street,” she testified in 1990. “I’ll veer off, either to the right or to the left. I also have a great deal of trouble going down steps . . . . I also have lost my sense of smell completely . . . I also suffer from double vision.”
The jurors could barely look at the crime scene photo of her from the aftermath of her attack: her badly hurt body laying in blood and mud.
Exercise, the very event that was the precursor to her attacked, ending up helping Meili recover.
“As I kept moving and becoming physically stronger, I began seeing a positive impact on my cognitive rehabilitation as well,” she told Shape. “Down the road, I was even involved in a study about how running and exercise can do wonders for those with traumatic brain injuries.”
Physically, she still bears some shadows of the attack. She still has some scarring on her face from the violent incident. She lost her sense of smell and struggles with both her sense of balance and vision, according to Refinery 29.
However, she has proven her strength both emotionally and physically. She never stopped running, joined a team for runners with disabilities just months after the attack, and even ran the New York Marathon back in 1995, the same year she got married. The New York Times did a profile on her dedication to running in 2009. She now works with survivors of sexual assault at Mount Sinai Hospital and Gaylord Hospital, according to Refinery 29. She also works with survivors of brain injuries, ABC News reports. In 2003, Meili revealed her identity to the public and published the memoir “I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility” under her own name.
“I thought this would be a good time to say, ‘Hey, look. It’s been 20 years, and life doesn’t end after brain injury, after sexual assault or whatever our challenges are,’ Meili told the New York Times at the time.
Central Park Five: The true story behind When They See Us
Image copyright Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix/Getty Image caption Ethan Herisse as Yusef Salaam in When They See Us (left) and the real Yusef Salaam now
One spring evening in 1989, a group of around 30 teenagers were hanging out in Central Park, New York.
Some of them were causing serious trouble – including badly hurting others in the park and harassing homeless people.
The same night, a 28-year-old white woman, Trisha Meili, had been out jogging in the park.
She was found beaten and raped and was in a coma for 12 days – and in that time, the case of the Central Park Jogger would grip New York City.
Five young black and Hispanic men, aged between 14 and 16, would be found guilty and jailed for the crime.
They became known as the Central Park Five.
But they never committed the crime.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Antron McCray (left) and Yusef Salaam (third from left) leave court in 1990
Richardson and Santana were the first to be taken in by police, on reports of intimidating behaviour and muggings.
McCray, Salaam and Wise were taken in the following day – Wise wasn’t considered a suspect at the time but wanted to offer moral support to Salaam.
Focus soon shifted to the jogger Trisha Meili, and the five boys were interrogated for at least seven hours without their parents, before four made video-taped confessions to detectives.
All admitted they touched or restrained Meili while one or more of the others assaulted her.
Image copyright Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix Image caption Alexandra Templer as Trisha Meili in the Netflix drama When They See Us, which is based on the story of the Central Park Five
As the DNA evidence from semen found at the scene didn’t match any of the five boys, prosecutors relied solely on the initial interrogations.
But the Five took back those statements – saying they’d been coerced by police into giving false confessions.
In a 2016 interview with the Guardian, Salaam said: “I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room.
“They would come and look at me and say: ‘You realise you’re next’.
“The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out”.
After two trials, the five teenagers were found guilty of offences including attempted murder, rape, assault and robbery, and were convicted to six to 13 years in prison.
The role of Donald Trump
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Donald Trump in 1989
New York in the 80s and 90s was much more dangerous than it is today.
Race relations were strained – especially when it came to the police.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump – then a New York property mogul – seemed convinced the teens were guilty.
He spent a reported $85,000 (around £138,000 today) on four full-page adverts in New York newspapers titled: “Bring Back The Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police!”.
He wrote: “I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyse or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”
In an interview with CNN at the time, he said: “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.”
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption New York city was very different to what it is like now
It seemed to feed into the atmosphere of high crime rates and poor race relations in the city at the time.
Talking about the adverts, Salaam later told the Guardian: “We were all afraid. Our families were afraid. Our loved ones were afraid. For us to walk around as if we had a target on our backs.
“Had this been the 1950s, that sick type of justice that they wanted – somebody from that darker place of society would have most certainly came to our homes, dragged us from our beds and hung us from trees in Central Park.”
The real criminal
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Reece Noi plays Matias Reyes in When They See Us
Matias Reyes had been convicted of a string of rapes and a murder and was in prison.
He’d come across one of the Central Park Five, Korey Wise, twice during imprisonment.
In 2002, a year after his second meeting, Reyes told the police he was the one who’d attacked and sexually assaulted Meili when he was 17 – and said he’d acted alone.
He was able to tell police details about the attack that wasn’t public knowledge and his DNA matched that at the scene of the crime.
One of the crimes he’d been found guilty of was another rape two days before the Meili incident – but he was never a suspect in the Central Park Jogger case.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Protestors outside Manhattan’s Criminal Court in New York City in 2002
Reyes later said: “I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years, why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime.
“At first I was afraid, but at the end of the day, I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.”
Eventually, the five men were cleared of all charges having almost served their full sentences.
Reyes was never prosecuted for the crimes the Five were accused of as the statute of limitations had passed.
He remains in prison on a life sentence although has a parole hearing scheduled for 2022.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Protesters march in front of city court in New York in 2002
On their release, the Five filed a civil suit against New York City and received $41m in the settlement (about £45.5m today).
Korey Wise received the biggest share of $12m because he was the only one who’d been sentenced as an adult and so spent the longest time in prison.
Speaking in a 2012 documentary about the case, he said: “You can forgive but you won’t forget. You won’t forget what you lost.
“No money could bring that time back. No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away.”
What has happened now?
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Korey Wise in 2019
The Five are now in their 40s. Most of them have moved away from New York.
Salaam said: “I look at Donald Trump, and I understand him as a representation of a symptom of America.
“We were convicted because of the colour of our skin. People thought the worst of us.
“And this is all because of prominent New Yorkers – especially Donald Trump.”
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Donald Trump in 2016
On the presidential campaign trail in 2016, Mr Trump was asked by CNN about the ads he took out about the Central Park Five.
“They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” he said.
“The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Image copyright Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix Image caption Writer/director Ava DuVernay and Jharrel Jerome, who plays Korey Wise, on the set of When They See Us
Now, the story has been turned into a four-part Netflix drama called When They See Us.
It’s written and directed by Ava DuVernay, who directed Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time.
She’s also made films such as Selma, based on Martin Luther King Jr, and 13th, a documentary about the US prison system.
What has the reaction been?
When They See Us has introduced the story of the Central Park Five to a new audience – but even for those who already knew about it, the consensus is that it makes for a difficult watch.
It’s left viewers angry.
And even though people have struggled through it, it’s being recommended as an important story to know about.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Trisha Meili in 2005
The identity of the Central Park Jogger was kept secret throughout the trial.
In 2003, 14 years after the attack, Trisha Meili came forward and confirmed she was the victim in a book called I Am The Central Park Jogger.
She was in a coma for 12 days after the attack and, when she woke up, she did not remember any details of it.
Soon after the attack she quit her job as an investment banker to work with survivors of sexual assault.
She still has some scarring from the attack and lost her sense of smell.
Trish Meili now works as a motivational speaker and she still runs.
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The four-part Netflix drama “When They See Us,” created, co-written and directed by noted African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay, has again turned the spotlight on the unjust conviction of the “Central Park Five.”
Five teenagers, four black and one Hispanic, were found guilty of raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1990. They were exonerated 12 years later, after they had served prison sentences and after a serial rapist confessed to the crime.
The miniseries and the conversation around it have treated the Central Park Five story as a simple tale of the evil of white racism. Racial stereotyping was a factor in the injustice that was done. But it was far more complicated. What happened was also a result of media frenzy and heightened sensitivity toward sex crimes — including feminist outrage at violence against women.
When the jogger, a 28-year-old investment banker (who, years later, identified herself as Trisha Meili) was found unconscious, beaten and raped in Central Park in spring 1989, the news shook a city coping with rampant crime. The boys who were arrested — Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana — were to some extent casualties of a societal tendency to see young black males as potential criminals. But it is also true they were part of a loose group of about 30 East Harlem teens who were in Central Park that night attacking random bicyclists and joggers.
This doesn’t mean they attacked Meili. Indeed, circumstantial evidence indicates they were elsewhere in the park. The boys’ soon-retracted confessions, riddled with inconsistencies, are now almost universally seen as the result of police coercion and manipulation. There was no forensic evidence tying them to the act.
In 2001, Matias Reyes, a murderer and rapist serving a life sentence for other crimes, confessed to raping and beating Meili; his statement was confirmed by DNA and other crime scene evidence.
Why were the teens convicted, despite what should have been plenty of reasonable doubt? (Veteran journalist Joan Didion noted the weaknesses in the case back in 1991.) Mainly because media coverage and public emotion created an accusation-equals-guilt mindset.
Racial stereotypes played a role. But notably, the year before the Central Park rape, a white woman, Margaret Kelly Michaels, was convicted of molesting 20 children at a New Jersey day care center and sentenced to 47 years in prison in a case that also generated intense emotion. A later review found that the children were heavily pressured to “disclose” abuse and that the acts imputed to Michaels, whose conviction was overturned in 1993, were highly implausible.
In the Central Park case, the jogger became a symbol for female victims of male violence, while Linda Fairstein, then the head of the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes unit, and Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer were hailed as heroic feminist avengers. After Lederer won the first three convictions, a New York journalist gloated that the defendants “were nailed by a woman,” something that could have never “crossed their vicious minds.” The writer was not a fearmongering white reactionary but Bob Herbert, a respected, progressive black columnist for the Daily News (and later The New York Times) who wrote often on racial issues.
Today, the wheel has turned, and the now-retired Fairstein, who opposed vacating the five men’s convictions in 2002, has gone from hero to pariah, dropped by her book publisher and booted from several boards of directors. But the sex-crime panic and the presumed-guilty mentality are still with us. The Central Park Five story is a cautionary tale about that, too.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.
When Trisha Meili was found beaten beyond recognition in Central Park, it was assumed that she would die from her injuries.
She was discovered in a gully 90 metres from the jogging path she was dragged from, naked and tied up, covered in mud and her own blood. “She was beaten as badly as anybody I’ve ever seen beaten,” said Joseph Walsh, the first policeman on the scene.
Her injuries were horrific. Meili had lost 80 per cent of her blood, and with a body temperature of only 29C, she was suffering hypothermia, reports news.com.au.
Her skull was fractured in 21 places and her left eye was dislodged from the socket. She was in severe haemorrhagic shock, lapsing in and out of a coma.
By the time she reached the hospital, she was unable to breathe on her own.
As reports of the vicious attack flooded the media, it was widely believed that she would never wake up. The most hopeful prognosis was she would permanently remain in a coma — but miraculously, twelve days later she awoke.
Trisha Meili. Photo / Supplied
She was in a bad way: unable to talk, walk or remember anything about her life. But six months of intense therapy saw Meili undergo a remarkable recovery.
Eight months after the attack, she was back at her job in the corporate finance department at Solomon Brothers. It was a miracle.
She was the only eye witness to her attack, but Meili never recovered her memories from that evening — a fact the five teenagers who were convicted of the brutal attack wish was different.
If she could have remembered something, anything, the trajectories of their lives would have been markedly different.
A NIGHT OF TERROR
On the evening of April 19, 1989, Meili had been out for a late night jog, something she’d done regularly for two-and-a-half years without incidence. Her work schedule meant she often worked late in the evening, and had to start early, making daylight exercise an impossibility.
Still, she had concerns about jogging alone at night in the notoriously dangerous park, which is why she had a strict set of rules.
“I wouldn’t start running, let’s say, after 9:30 at night,” she explained to Larry King. “I didn’t go to the most northern part of the park, which is a bit more secluded than the area where I was first attacked.
“I didn’t run around the reservoir in the park at night alone, because it’s a narrow path and I thought, ‘Eh, that’s a little bit more dangerous.'”
She would also only jog in well-lit areas. That evening she had started her jog at 9pm, within the time frame set by her own rules.
A bloodied shirt retrieved from crime scene where a jogger was savagely raped in New York’s Central Park. Photo / Supplied
Around the same time Meili started her jog, the first reports came into the Central Park Precinct of a group of around three dozen youths attacking joggers and bicyclists.
By 9:30pm, the complaints had increased in number, and the first set of patrol cars were dispatched to the park.
Half an hour later, at 10pm, John Loughlin was king hit in the back of the head with a pipe, one of many people attacked that evening.
At 10:15pm, police scooped up a number of young offenders, including 14-year-olds Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson. Within a short time, police had began interviewing the kids, quickly extracting a list of names of 33 suspects believed to be in the park that night. Among this list were 15-year-olds Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, and 16-year-old Korey Wise. They were brought in for questioning that same night, and these five were among those interrogated non-stop for two days. They were deprived of sleep, and subjected to lies, violence, and threats about what would happen to them if they didn’t co-operate. Eventually, exhausted and scared, they all confessed to the attack on Trisha Meili. All would recant these confessions in the coming weeks.
But it was too late. These five children were charged with the attack, their names released to a baying media before a single charge had been laid, despite four of them being under 16.
They were quickly nicknamed ‘The Central Park Five’ and became the subjects of death threats to their houses, and — published in all four New York dailies — a public call for their executions.
Thirteen years later they would be exonerated of this crime, after a serial rapist and murderer confessed in great detail.
He acted alone. His DNA matched the only sample collected at the scene of the crime.
It was an open and shut case.
The Central Park Five were innocent.
TRIAL BY MEDIA
Yusef Salaam, one of five teenagers accused of 1989 rape and attempted murder of a Central Park jogger arrives at New York State Supreme Court. Photo / AP
Three days after the attack, the New York Times were already reporting in a hyperbole manner. “Jogger’s Attackers Terrorised at Least 9 in 2 Hours” read the headline.
“The youths who raped and savagely beat a young investment banker as she jogged in Central Park Wednesday night were part of a loosely organised gang of 32 schoolboys whose random, motiveless assaults terrorised at least eight other people over nearly two hours, senior police investigators said yesterday.
“Chief of Detectives Robert Colangelo, who said the attacks appeared unrelated to money, race, drugs or alcohol, said that some of the 20 youths brought in for questioning had told investigators that the crime spree was the product of a pastime called wilding.”
Such irresponsible reporting completely removed the presumption of innocence, a trend in how the media framed this case. When researching her Netflix miniseries When They See Us, about the Central Park Five, writer and director Ava DuVernay found a study that showed that 89 per cent of the articles written by New York papers at the time of the case, failed to use the word ‘alleged.’ Due to the confessions, guilt was automatically assumed.
Although Colangelo claimed race wasn’t a motivating factor in the attack, it certainly was in the media’s take on the attack: it didn’t go unnoticed that the accused were four African-American teenagers and one Hispanic. “The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths,” bemoaned Reverend Calvin O. Butts in a New York Times report.
Mayor Ed Koch fuelled the flames, dubbing it “the crime of the century” — a sweeping hundred-year span that had seen the horrors of Son of Sam, the Zodiac Killer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy — plus countless other atrocities, including the Holocaust. Which is not to downplay the horrific nature of the crime, only to point out how emphatically the public were baying for blood.
The case was emblematic of an era in New York City where homicide rates were at their peak, and residents were too scared to leave their homes after dark. 1989 had seen 1905 murders in the city, the first of which occurred just 41 minutes after the ball dropped in Times Square to celebrate the new year. It was the worst year on record.
The following year saw this towering figure surpassed further, with the city experiencing a shocking 2245 killings. For context, there were 290 murders in New York in 2017, the lowest figure since 1944.
Antron McCray, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, – two of the accused – in 1989. Photo / News Corp Australia
These were unsafe times, and the random brutality of the attack on the Central Park Jogger coupled with her anonymity in the media at the time put New Yorkers on edge.
In a 1991 essay about the Central Park Jogger, Joan Didion wrote of how a public debate surrounding Meili’s decision to go jogging alone in the park at night played out on the New York Times opinion pages; some dubbed it foolhardy, while another argued, “when people run is a function of their lifestyle”. A Democratic candidate wrote an op-ed piece, declaring, “that park belongs to us and this time nobody is going to take it from us”.
TRUMP CALLS FOR DEATH
Donald Trump, then a real estate tycoon who had recently shot to prominence in the city due to his ghostwritten book The Art Of The Deal, paid $85,000 to run full-page ads in New York’s four daily papers: The New York Times, The Daily News, The New York Post, and New York Newsday. The same inflammatory 600-word diatribe, running May 1, 1989, across all four papers, was titled ‘Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police’ and while it didn’t refer to the incident specifically, it referred to “roving bands of wild criminals” and called for the “criminals of every age” to be put to death. “I want to hate these muggers and murderers,” Trump wrote. “They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”
Rallying against a largely misunderstood quote from Mayor Koch that “hate and rancour should be removed from our hearts”, Trump called for zero policy sentencing.
“How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalisation of its citizens by crazed misfits?” the letter asks. “Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”
This early example of Trump’s hate speech would have far reaching ramifications. Michael W. Warren, who defended one of the accused, claims the full-page ads “poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York City and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim,” arguing the wide dissemination of the message impacted the impartiality of the jurors.
HOW DO FALSE CONFESSIONS OCCUR?
Mr Salaam holds a news conference with his sister Aisha Salaam in 2003 after the five men were cleared and released from jail. Photo / AP
To understand how such a miscarriage of justice could occur, one only needs to look at the statistics regarding false confessions in America. In 1989, the idea of false confessions was a relatively unstudied one, and so when the Central Park Five admitted to the brutal attack, it was assumed they had done it. After all, what innocent person would confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Now, we know better.
When DNA evidence is used to overturn a conviction, more than a quarter of the cases originally involved some form of false confession. Between 1989 and 2017, 12 per cent of wrongful convictions that were later overturned involved someone giving a false confession. 38 per cent of these were given by children under the age of 18, and a shocking 70 per cent of them had a reported mental illness or intellectual disability.
The brutal interrogation techniques used by police, the lack of options presented to the accused, and the feeling that such a confession is the only way out of the room all add to these towering figures. Police are allowed to lie in order to elicit a confession.
The most recent high-profile example of the above was shown in 2015’s Making A Murderer docu-series, where Brendan Dassey — at the time of his interrogation, a sixteen-year-old child with a learning disability — was steered towards a confession by officers.
He was interviewed three times within a 24-hour time frame without the presence of an adult, a parent or a lawyer. The video footage of this systematic breaking down of Dassey makes for heartbreaking viewing, as he bumbles his way through a coached confession, of a crime he had no knowledge of. Through this confession alone, he was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, rape and mutilation of a corpse, despite the confession being called “clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense” by a US magistrate judge. This judge’s finding was overturned, and Dassey is currently serving a life sentence.
Like Dassey, the Central Park Five were questioned for days on end. In the case of 15-year-old Salaam — who falsely told police he was 16 in order to keep his parents from needing to be in the room while being questioned — much of the interrogation was later discovered to have been undertaken illegally. Despite this, Salaam’s answers were admitted into testimony.
Raymond Santana, pictured aged 14 in 1990, says it is still hard to move on. Photo / News Corp Australia
Hours before Meili’s bludgeoned body had been found, one of the kids the police had rounded up gave a pre-emptive denial in the police car, claiming he “didn’t do the murder.”
After almost two days of interrogation, police extracted confessions from four of the five; only Salaam refused to sign a confession, although he made a verbal admission that he was present in the park that night, after a detective lied and told him his fingerprints had been lifted from the victim’s clothing. None of the five admitted to raping Meili, only claiming to be accomplices.
Although four of them signed confessions, and made video admissions, all had recanted within the following weeks, claiming police coercion. The only videotapes that exist of the interrogations are the straight confessions; the days of mind games that led to these on-camera statements were not taped. Sleep deprivation played a large part in their eventual confessions, as did fear and violence.
“I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room,” Salaam recalled. “They would come and look at me and say: ‘You realise you’re next’. The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out.”
The five statements tell five completely conflicting stories, with differences in every aspect of the crime.
Taken in isolated snippets, the confessions are horrifying, and those in the courtroom had no reason to believe they weren’t true. “We charged her. We got her on the ground. Everybody started hitting her and stuff. She was on the ground. Everybody stompin’ and everything.”
A discarded sock and inner sole at the scene where Ms Meili was raped in Central Park. Photo / News Corp Australia
“Raymond had her arms, and Steve had her legs. He spread it out. And Antron got on top, took her panties off.”
“He was smackin’ her, he was sayin’, ‘Shut up, bitch!’ Just smackin’ her. This is my first rape.”
It doesn’t matter which child said which of the above statements. They are vivid and horrific, but according to a detailed 58-page document presented in order to vacate the indictment, none of these claims are in keeping with what happened on that night.
They are fabricated.
District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who recommended the convictions be overturned, claimed there were major differences in “who initiated the attack, who knocked the victim down, who undressed her, who struck her, who held her, who raped her, what weapons were used in the course of the assault, and when in the sequence of events the attack took place.
“In many other respects the defendants’ statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence. And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact.”
The five pleaded not guilty, but their confessions loomed large in the courtroom, despite there being no eye witnesses in the crowded park, and no DNA evidence linking any of them to the crime.
Two separate trials found all five guilty of various aspects of the crime.
Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana were acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot.
Kevin Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, while Korey Wise — the only one to be tried as an adult — was convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot.
INJUSTICE FOR ALL
Matias Reyes confessed to the rape in 2002. Photo / AP
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a violent serial rapist and convicted murderer, admitted to committing the attack in Central Park that night. He went into great detail regarding the crime, and claimed to have acted alone. His DNA matched the only sample taken from the scene, and the way in which Meili’s body was tied with a t-shirt matched other crimes he was convicted for. The statute of limitations had long passed, meaning that Reyes could not be charged with the crime. At any rate, he is already serving a life sentence for another murder.
By this point, the Central Park Five had each spent between six and 13 years in prison for the crime.
Morgenthau made the above recommendation to overturn the convictions in 2002, and they were freed.
The following year, Richardson, Santana and McCray filed a wrongful conviction suit against New York City, claiming $250 million in damages for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused to settle for over a decade, stalling on a settlement, as they believed that, despite the convictions being overturned, they would win the case.
After being elected in 2014, Mayor De Blasio agreed to a $41 million settlement.
It’s less than 20 per cent of what they had been seeking, and so they are currently suing the State for an additional $52 million.
Original photos from the scene are among the 100,000 pieces of evidence the city is now gradually releasing. Photo / News Corp Australia
Although they settled, the city of New York did not admit to any wrongdoing in the prosecution and conviction of the Central Park Five.
Also claiming no wrongdoing is Donald Trump, who placed the incendiary ads many believe helped steer public sentiment against the Five.
After the settlement was announced, he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Daily News, titled ‘Central Park Five settlement is a disgrace.’
In the piece he quotes an unnamed detective “close to the case” and says he told Trump this was “the heist of the century”, unwittingly echoing Mayor Koch’s hyperbolic “crime of the century” claim 25 years prior.
“Settling doesn’t mean innocence, but it indicates incompetence on several levels”, Trump writes, before imploring people to “speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.”
“What about the other people who were brutalised that night, in addition to the jogger?” he asks. “The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city.”
The story people know is the lie that you told them. Your violent rhetoric fed tensions that led to the bill you pretend to distant yourself from. But you can’t hide from what you did to The Central Park Five. They were innocent. And they will have the last word. #WhenTheySeeUs https://t.co/M0hkcnpt0Y pic.twitter.com/gbOIvSW1ou
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 28, 2019
Since then, he has repeatedly reiterated the guilty verdict of the men, even though their convictions were vacated. Just this week, he alluded to the case again.
“Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected,” he tweeted. “In particular, African-Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, & helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!”
The film’s director, Ava DuVernay, was quick to fire back: “The story people know is the lie that you told them. Your violent rhetoric fed tensions that led to the bill you pretend to distant yourself from. But you can’t hide from what you did to The Central Park Five. They were innocent. And they will have the last word.”