Central Park jogger case

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The Central Park jogger case involved the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a female jogger in New York City's Central Park, on April 19, 1989. Five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were tried and convicted for the crime and served their sentences fully. The convictions were vacated in 2002 when Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer serving a life sentence for other crimes, confessed to committing the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in the rape.


Trisha Meili in 2005

Trisha Ellen Meili (born June 24, 1960) was the victim often described in the media as the Central Park Jogger. Meili was born in Paramus, New Jersey, and raised in affluent Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a Westinghouse executive.[1][2] Meili was a Phi Beta Kappa economics major at Wellesley College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts. She later earned a Master of Arts from Yale, and a Master of Business Administration from Yale School of Management. She lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and worked at the Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers at the time of the attack.[3] Meili was referred to simply as the "Central Park Jogger" in most media accounts of the incident. However, some[which?] local TV stations released her name in the days immediately following the attack, and two newspapers aimed at the African-American community, The City Sun and the Amsterdam News, and radio station WLIB continued to do so as the case progressed.[4] In April 2003, Meili confirmed her identity to the media, published a memoir entitled I Am the Central Park Jogger, and began a career as an inspirational speaker.[5][6]


On the night of April 19, 1989, several attacks, assaults and robberies occurred in New York City's Central Park, involving about 30 teenage perpetrators.[7]

The 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili was violently assaulted while jogging in the park. She was raped and beaten almost to death. When found about four hours later at 1:30 am, she was suffering from severe hypothermia and blood loss from multiple lacerations and internal bleeding, and her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was removed from the socket. The initial medical prognosis was that she would die or, at best, remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries. Remarkably, she largely recovered, with some lingering disabilities related to balance and loss of vision. As a result of the severe trauma, she had no memory of the attack or of any events up to an hour before the assault.

The crime, one of 3,254 rapes reported in New York City that year, was unique in the level of public outrage it provoked. New York Governor Mario Cuomo told the New York Post, "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."[4]

Arrests, interrogations and confessions[edit]

According to a police investigation, the main suspects were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as "wilding". New York City detectives said the word was used by the suspects themselves to describe their actions to police.[8] This account has been disputed by other journalists, who say that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing".[9][10] April 19 was known to have been a night when such a gang attack occurred, in which the suspects had entered the park in Harlem with over 30 acquaintances. Contrary to normal police procedure, which stipulates that the names of suspects under the age of sixteen are to be withheld, the names of the juveniles arrested in this case were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted, including one 14-year-old who was ultimately not charged.[4] The media's decision to print the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects while withholding Meili's identity was cited by the editors of the City Sun and the Amsterdam News to explain their own continued use of Meili's name in their coverage of the story.[11] While many teenage suspects were identified (or identified themselves) as participants in the Central Park assaults that night—although not necessarily in the attack on Meili—only five, known later as the Central Park Five, were brought to trial.

Four of the juveniles charged—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise—officially confessed to the rape and to other attacks that night, and each implicated the others. A fifth suspect, Yusef Salaam, made verbal admissions, but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. Salaam was, however, implicated by all of the other four and convicted. Salaam's supporters and attorneys charged on appeal that he had been held by police without access to parents or guardians, but as the majority appellate court decision noted, that was because Salaam had initially lied to police in claiming to be 16, and had backed up his claim with a transit pass that indeed (falsely, as it turned out) indicated that he was 16. If a suspect has reached 16 years of age, his parents or guardians no longer have a right to accompany him during police questioning, or to refuse to permit him to answer any questions. When Salaam informed police of his true age, police permitted his mother to be present.[12]

Although the suspects (except Salaam) had confessed on videotape in the presence of a parent or guardian, they retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions.[13] The detectives had indeed used ruses to convince the suspects to confess, with Salaam confessing to having been present only after he was told that fingerprints were found on the victim's clothing.[14] While the confessions themselves were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.

No DNA evidence tied the suspects to the crime, so the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the confessions.[4] In fact, analysis indicated that the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects—and that the crime scene DNA had all come from a single, as yet unknown person.[13]

One of the suspects' supporters, Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told the New York Times, "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, and I think that's what happened here."[4]

Trials and sentences[edit]

In a first trial in August 1990, the defendants Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray and Raymond Santana were acquitted of attempted murder and convicted of rape, assault, robbery and riot. Salaam and McCray were 15 years old and Santana 14 years old at the time of the crime[10] and they received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles, 5–10 years in a youth correctional facility.[7][15][16]

The second trial ended in December 1990. Kevin Richardson, 14 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted of attempted murder and rape; Korey Wise, 16 years old at the time of the crime, was acquitted of those charges but convicted of sexual abuse and assault. After the verdict, Wise shouted at the prosecutor: "You’re going to pay for this. Jesus is going to get you. You made this up."[17]

Jurors interviewed after the trial stated that they were not convinced by the confessions but were impressed by the physical evidence introduced by the prosecutors: semen, grass, dirt and two hairs "consistent with" the victim's hair[7]:6 recovered from Richardson's underpants.[18] Richardson received a sentence of 5–10 years and Wise, who had been tried as an adult, a sentence of 5–15 years. All convictions were affirmed on appeal.[7]

The case attracted nationwide attention and was the subject of many articles and books, both during the trials and after the convictions.[19]

Convictions vacated[edit]

Yusef Salaam in 2009

In 2002, another man's confession, plus DNA evidence confirming his crime, led the district attorney's office to recommend vacating the convictions of the teenagers originally accused and sentenced to prison. In 2002, convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, serving a life sentence for other crimes but not, at that point, associated by the police with the attack on Meili, declared that he had committed the assault when he was 17, and that he had acted alone. He provided a detailed account of the attack, corroborated by other evidence.[7] The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the crime and identified him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people".[7] DNA analysis of the strands of hair found in Richardson's underpants established that the hair did not belong to the victim.[20] The victim had been tied up with her T-shirt in a distinctive fashion Reyes used again on later victims.[7]

Supporters of the five defendants again claimed their confessions had been coerced. An examination of the inconsistencies between their confessions led the prosecutor to question the veracity of the confessions. District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau's office wrote:

A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies. ... The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime—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.[7]

Based on Reyes' confession, the DNA evidence, and the questionable confessions, Morgenthau recommended that the convictions be vacated. In light of the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, the prosecutor recommended that the court vacate not only the convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili, but also those for the other crimes to which the defendants had confessed. The rationale was that the defendants' confessions to the other crimes were made at the same time, and in the same statements, as those related to the attack on Meili. Had the newly discovered evidence been available at the original trials, it might have made the juries question whether any part of the defendants' confessions were trustworthy.[7] Morgenthau's recommendation to vacate the convictions was strongly opposed by Linda Fairstein, who had overseen the original prosecution but had since left the District Attorney's office.[13] The five defendants' convictions were vacated by New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada on December 19, 2002. As Morgenthau recommended, Tejada's order vacated the convictions for all the crimes of which the defendants had been convicted.[21]

Despite the analysis conducted by the District Attorney's office, New York City detectives maintained that the defendants had "most likely" been Reyes' accomplices in the assault and rape of Meili.[22] Members of the medical crew who treated her stated her injuries were not consistent with Reyes' claim of how he acted alone.[23] (Their statements were contradicted at the 1990 trial by a forensic pathologist and by the New York City chief medical examiner in 2002, both of whom concluded it was impossible to tell from the victim's injuries how many people had participated in the assault).[24] Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly complained that Morgenthau's staff had denied his detectives access to "important evidence" needed to conduct a thorough investigation.[21] This claim notwithstanding, no indictments, convictions or disciplinary actions were ever taken against District Attorney's office staff members. All of the defendants had completed their prison sentences at the time of Tejada's order, which only had the effect of clearing their names. However one defendant, Santana, remained in jail, convicted of a later, unrelated crime, although his attorney said that his sentence in that case had been extended because of his conviction in the Meili attack. All five were removed from New York State's sex offender registry.[21][25][26]

Lawsuit against city by exonerated men[edit]

In 2003, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray sued the city for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress.[27] The city refused for some time to settle the suits, saying that "the confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials" established probable cause.[28] Filmmaker Ken Burns stated in a November 2013 interview that New York City Mayor–elect Bill de Blasio had agreed to settle the $250 million lawsuit.[29]

A settlement in the case for $41 million was approved by a federal judge on September 5, 2014. Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson will each receive $7.1 million for their years in prison, while Wise will receive $12.2 million. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.[30]

Documentary film[edit]

Main article: The Central Park Five

Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Burns' daughter Sarah Burns premiered The Central Park Five, a documentary film about the case, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012.[31] In the film, the filmmakers compare the case to the 1931 rape case of the Scottsboro Boys, which eventually led to a Supreme Court ruling on the racial makeup of juries.[32] The film was released in the United States in November 2012.[31] On September 12, 2012, attorneys for New York City subpoenaed the production company for access to the original footage in connection with its defense of the federal lawsuit brought by some of the convicted youths against the city.[33] Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, justified the subpoena on the grounds that the film had "crossed the line from journalism to advocacy" for the wrongly convicted men.[33] In February 2013, U.S. District Judge Ronald Ellis dismissed the city's suit.[34]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Mackenzie Carpenter (March 29, 2003). "Central Park jogger writes book about her life since attack". Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 19, 2013. 
  2. ^ Mackenzie Carpenter (May 13, 2003). "Central Park Jogger's recovery illustrates brain's amazing capabilities". Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ About Trisha Overview
  4. ^ a b c d e Didion, Joan (January 17, 1991). "Sentimental Journeys". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2007-06-21.  This essay has also been published in Didion's non-fiction collection After Henry (1992).
  5. ^ Trisha Meili's professional site
  6. ^ Meili, Trisha (2003). I am the Central Park Jogger. Scribner. ISBN 0-7432-4437-0. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Affirmation in Response to Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction: The People of the State of New York -against- Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana, Defendants" (PDF). Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney, New York County. 2002-12-05. Retrieved 2007-06-22. 
  8. ^ Pitt, David E. (1989-04-22). "Jogger's Attackers Terrorized at Least 9 in 2 Hours". The New York Times. The youths who raped and savagely beat a young investment banker as she jogged in Central Park Wednesday night were part of a loosely organized gang of 32 schoolboys whose random, motiveless assaults terrorized 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. 
  9. ^ Cooper, Barry Michael (May 9, 1989) "The Central Park Rape" in The Village Voice.
  10. ^ a b Goldblatt, Mark (December 16, 2002). "Certainties and Unlikelihoods: The Central Park Jogger, 2002". National Review. Retrieved 2007-08-21. On the night of April 19, 1989, just after 9 o'clock, it is certain, absolutely certain, that Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Yusef Salaam, 15, Antron McCray, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, ran amok for a half hour across a quarter-mile stretch of Central Park—chasing after bicyclists, assaulting pedestrians, and (in two separate incidents) pummeling two men into unconsciousness with a metal pipe, stones, punches, and kicks to the head. The teens later confessed on videotape to these attacks—which they couldn't have known about unless they had participated. As recently as this year, Richardson and Santana again acknowledged their roles in these crimes. 
  11. ^ Smith, Valerie (1998). Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings. Routledge. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0-415-90325-4. 
  12. ^ "Detective Cites Coercion of Teen". Associated Press in Albany Times Union. 1990-07-24. p. B6. Justice Thomas B. Galligan allowed the statements as evidence because Salaam gave police a student transit pass with a false birth date written in. The false birth date indicated Salaam was a year older that he was. 
  13. ^ a b c Schanberg, Sydney (November 26, 2002). "A Journey Through the Tangled Case of the Central Park Jogger". Village Voice. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Every now and again, we get a look, usually no more than a glimpse, at how the justice system really works. What we see before the sanitizing curtain is drawn abruptly down is a process full of human fallibility and error, sometimes noble, more often unfair, rarely evil but frequently unequal, and through it all inevitably influenced by issues of race and class and economic status. In short, it's a lot like other big, unwieldy institutions. Such a moment of clear sight emerges from the mess we know as the case of the Central Park jogger. 
  14. ^ Chris Smith (October 21, 2002). "Central Park Revisited". New York Magazine. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  15. ^ "The Case of the Central Park Jogger". The New York Times. August 19, 1990. 
  16. ^ "Shouts of 'Lie' Stun 2d Trial In Jogger Rape". The New York Times. October 23, 1990. 
  17. ^ "2 guilty in jog case". New York Daily News. December 12, 1990. 
  18. ^ "Jogger Trial Jury Relied on Physical Evidence, Not Tapes". The New York Times. December 13, 1990. 
  19. ^ Sullivan, Timothy, Unequal Verdicts: The Central Park Jogger Trials (1992, Simon & Schuster)(ISBN 067174237X)..
  20. ^ "A Crime Revisited: The Decision; 13 Years Later, Official Reversal in Jogger Attack". The New York Times. December 6, 2002. 
  21. ^ a b c Saulny, Susan (2002-12-20). "Convictions and Charges Voided In '89 Central Park Jogger Attack". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-22. Thirteen years after an investment banker jogging in Central Park was savagely beaten, raped and left for dead, a Manhattan judge threw out the convictions yesterday of the five young men who had confessed to attacking the woman on a night of violence that stunned the city and the nation. In one final, extraordinary ruling that took about five minutes, Justice Charles J. Tejada of State Supreme Court in Manhattan granted recent motions made by defense lawyers and Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, to vacate all convictions against the young men in connection with the jogger attack and a spree of robberies and assaults in the park that night. 
  22. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (2003-01-28). "Boys' Guilt Likely in Rape of Jogger, Police Panel Says". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-22. A panel commissioned by the New York City Police Department concluded yesterday that there was no misconduct in the 1989 investigation of the Central Park jogger case, and said that five Harlem men whose convictions were thrown out by a judge last month had most likely participated in the beating and rape of the jogger. The panel also disputed the claim of Matias Reyes, a convicted killer and serial rapist, that he alone had raped the jogger. It was his confession last year that led to a sweeping re-examination of the infamous case by prosecutors, and to a reversal of all the original convictions against the five defendants. 
  23. ^ Hays, Elizabeth (2002-10-28). "Protesters Want Trump's Help In Jogger Case". Daily News (New York). 
  24. ^ Dwyer, Jim (June 24, 2014). "Suit in Jogger Case May Be Settled, but Questions Aren't". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2014. 
  25. ^ Innocence Project: Salaam, Richardson, McCray, Santana, Wise
  26. ^ Center on Wrongful Convictions
  27. ^ The Central Park 5 Want to Settle Lawsuit 2009-10-14
  28. ^ Eligon, John (2011-04-19). "New York Won't Settle Suits in Central Park Jogger Case". The New York Times. 
  29. ^ Barry, Andrew (November 12, 2013). "Central Park Five Lawsuit: New York City Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio Agrees To Settle Decade-Long Case Over Wrongful Convictions". International Business Times. 
  30. ^ http://gothamist.com/2014/09/06/judge_officially_oks_central_park_f.php
  31. ^ a b Central Park jogger case at the Internet Movie Database
  32. ^ Jensen, Elizabeth (2009-09-10). "Ken Burns, the Voice of the Wilderness". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  33. ^ a b Buettner, Russ (2012-10-02). "City Subpoenas Film Outtakes as It Defends Suit by Men Cleared in ’89 Rape". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  34. ^ "Ken Burns Wins Fight Against New York City Over 'Central Park Five' Research" Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter, 19 Feb 2013


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