Central Park jogger case
|Date||April 19, 1989|
|Time||9–10 p.m. (EDT)|
|Location||Central Park, New York City|
|Non-fatal injuries||Eight persons and Trisha Ellen Meili (found by bypassers)|
|Accused||Six teenagers indicted for rape of jogger and other charges; one was given a plea deal, pleading guilty to assault; five other teenagers were accused separately of assault and other charges related to attacks on other persons that night in the park.|
|Convicted||Five youths were tried in two trials (the 6th made a plea deal in 1991 for a lesser charge and had a lesser sentence.) Four of the five in the Meili case were convicted in 1990 of rape, assault and other charges; one of these was convicted of attempted murder; one was convicted on lesser charges but as an adult. The other five pleaded guilty to assault before trial and received lesser sentences.|
|Verdict||guilty; sentences ranged from 5–10 for four juveniles, and 5–15 years for the one classified as adult at 16, because of violent nature of crime|
|Convictions||Four of the teenagers in the Meili case served between 6–7 years in juvenile facilities; one, sentenced as an adult, served 13 years. Four unsuccessfully appealed their convictions in 1991.|
After another man was identified as the rapist in 2002, these five convictions were vacated, and the state withdrew all charges against the men.
|Litigation||The five men sued the city for discrimination and emotional distress; the city settled in 2014 for $41 million. They also sued New York State, which settled in 2016 for $3.9 million total.|
The Central Park jogger case was a criminal case based on the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old, white woman who was jogging in the park, and attacks on eight other persons, in areas ranging from the North Woods of Manhattan's Central Park to the Reservoir, on the night of April 19, 1989. Three of the victims were black or Hispanic. Meili, an investment banker, was so injured that she was in a coma for 12 days. At the time of the trial of the first defendants in June 1990, The New York Times described the attack on her as "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s".
Attacks in Central Park that night were allegedly committed by a loose group of 30–32 teenagers, and police attempted to apprehend suspects after crimes began to be reported between 9 and 10 pm. The brutally beaten Meili was not found until 1:30 am, after which the police hunt greatly intensified. Along with 14 or more other suspects over the next few days, four African American and two Hispanic American teenagers were taken into custody. After lengthy interrogations and other investigation, these six teenagers were indicted on May 10 on charges of assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder relating to the attacks on Meili and an unrelated man, John Loughlin. The sixth defendant was scheduled to be tried last. He made a plea deal in January 1991 related to the assault of Loughlin only and received a much reduced sentence.
Prosecution of the five defendants in the rape case was based primarily on confessions which they had made during police interrogations. In some cases questioning had proceeded for hours without parents or counsel present for any of the suspects. Within weeks, they each withdrew these confessions, pleaded not guilty, and refused plea deals on the rape and assault charges of the female jogger. Each of the suspects' DNA was excluded from matching the DNA from two semen samples found in and close to the victim, which both belonged to the same unidentified man. This fact was testified to by an FBI witness in the first of two trials. There was no substantive physical evidence connecting the five teenagers to the rape scene, but each of the five was convicted in 1990 of assault and other charges by juries. Subsequently known as the Central Park Five, they received stiff sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years. Four of the defendants appealed their convictions, but these were affirmed by appellate courts. The four juvenile defendants served 6–7 years each; the 16-year-old, tried and sentenced as an adult, served 13 years in adult prison. The five other defendants indicted for other assaults pleaded guilty to reduced charges related to other victims, and received much less severe sentences, even for the most serious assault.
In 2001, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist who was serving life in prison, confessed to officials that he had raped the female jogger. His DNA matched the two samples found on and near the rape victim, and there was other confirmatory evidence. He said he committed the rape alone. Reyes was not prosecuted for raping Meili, because the statute of limitations had passed. After an investigation by his office, in 2002 Robert Morgenthau, District Attorney for New York County, recommended that the convictions of the five men, related both to the assault and rape of Meili and to other charges, be vacated. The court vacated their convictions in 2002, and the state withdrew all charges against the men.
In 2003, the five exonerated men sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city refused to settle the suits for a decade, because the city's lawyers believed that the city could win a court case. After Bill de Blasio was elected as mayor, the city settled in 2014 with the five plaintiffs for $41 million. The five men also filed suit against New York State for an additional $52 million in damages in the New York Court of Claims; this was settled in 2016 for a total of $3.9 million.
- 1 Attacks
- 2 Trisha Ellen Meili
- 3 Other victims and chronology
- 4 Arrests and investigation
- 5 Indictments
- 6 Evidence offered at court
- 7 Trials
- 8 Sentencing and appeals
- 9 January 1991 plea bargain for Lopez
- 10 Serving time
- 11 Convictions vacated in 2002
- 12 Aftermath
- 13 Lives of the men post-exoneration
- 14 Contemporaneous cases compared by the media
- 15 Representation in other media
- 16 See also
- 17 References
- 18 Further reading
- 19 External links
At 9 pm on April 19, 1989, a group of an estimated 30-33 teenagers who lived in East Harlem entered Manhattan's Central Park at an entrance in Harlem, near Central Park North. Some of the group committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies against persons walking, biking, or jogging in the northernmost part of the park and near the reservoir, and victims began to report the incidents to police. Within the North Woods, between 105th and 102nd streets, they were reported as attacking several bicyclists, hurling rocks at a cab, and attacking a pedestrian, whom they robbed of his food and beer, and left unconscious. The teenagers roamed south along the park's East Drive and the 97th Street transverse, between 9 pm and 10 pm.
At least some of the group traveled further south to the area around the reservoir, where four men jogging were attacked by several youths. Among the victims was John Loughlin, a 40-year-old schoolteacher, who was severely beaten and robbed between 9:40 and 9:50. He was hit in the head with a pipe and stick, knocking him briefly unconscious. At a pre-trial hearing in October 1989, a police officer testified that when Loughlin was found, he was bleeding so badly that he "looked like he was dunked in a bucket of blood".
It was not until 1:30 am that night that a female jogger was found in the North Woods area of the park. She had been pulled to the north some 300 feet off the path known as the 102nd Street Crossing and brutally beaten, suffering major blood loss and skull fractures; she was later revealed to have been raped. The police increased the intensity of their effort to identify suspects in this attack and took more teenagers into custody. The jogger was not identified for about 24 hours, and it took days for the police to retrace her movements of that night. By the time of the trial of the first three suspects in June 1990, The New York Times characterized the attack on the jogger as "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s".
Assault on Trisha Meili
Trisha Meili was going for a regular run in Central Park shortly before 9 p.m. While jogging in the park, she was knocked down, dragged or chased nearly 300 feet (91 m), and violently assaulted. She was raped and almost beaten to death. About four hours later at 1:30 am, she was found naked, gagged, and tied, and covered in mud and blood, in a shallow ravine in a wooded area of the park about 300 feet north of the path called the 102nd Street Crossing. The first policeman who saw her said: "She was beaten as badly as anybody I've ever seen beaten. She looked like she was tortured."
The young woman was comatose for 12 days. She suffered severe hypothermia, severe brain damage, Class 4 (the most severe) hemorrhagic shock, loss of 75–80 percent of her blood, and internal bleeding. Her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was dislodged from its socket, which in turn was fractured in 21 places, and she suffered as well from facial fractures.
The initial medical prognosis was that Meili would die of her injuries. She was given last rites. Because of this, the police treated the attack as a probable homicide. Alternatively, doctors thought that the woman might remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries. She came out of her coma after 12 days. She was then treated for seven weeks in Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem. When Meili first emerged from her coma, she was unable to talk, read, or walk. In early June, Meilib was transferred to Gaylord Hospital, a long-term acute care center in Wallingford, Connecticut, where she spent six months in rehabilitation. She did not walk until mid-July 1989. She returned to work eight months after the attack. 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, nor of the six weeks following the attack.
At a time of concerns about crime in general in the city, which was suffering high rates of assaults, rapes and homicides, these attacks provoked great outrage, particularly the brutal rape of the female jogger. It took place in the public park that is "mythologized as the city’s verdant, democratic refuge". It was used by many different groups and individuals, and was central to New York's idea of itself as a city. Issues of race, class and gender were inflamed by the media, which emphasized the police theory of a gang attack of the female jogger. New York Governor Mario Cuomo told the New York Post: "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."
Trisha Ellen Meili
Trisha Ellen Meili was born on June 24, 1960, in Paramus, New Jersey, and raised in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. She is the daughter and youngest of three children of John Meili, a Westinghouse senior manager, and his wife Jean, a school board member. She attended Upper St. Clair High School, graduating in 1978.
Meili was a Phi Beta Kappa economics major at Wellesley College, where she received a B.A. in 1982. The chairman of Wellesley's economics department said: "She was brilliant, probably one of the top four or five students of the decade." In 1986, she earned an M.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. in finance from the Yale School of Management. She worked from the summer of 1986 until the attack as an associate and then a vice president in the corporate finance department and energy group of Salomon Brothers.
In most media accounts of the incident at that time, Meili was simply referred to as the "Central Park Jogger". However, two local TV stations violated media policy of not publicly identifying the victims of sex crimes and released her name in the days immediately following the attack. Two newspapers aimed at the African-American community—The City Sun and the Amsterdam News—and the black-owned talk radio station WLIB continued to do so as the case progressed. Their editors said this was in response to the media publicizing the names and personal information about the five suspects, who were all minors, before they were arraigned. The Open Line hosts on WRKS were credited with helping continue to cover the case until the convicted youths were cleared in 2002 of the crime.
In April 2003, Meili confirmed her identity to the media when she published a memoir entitled I Am the Central Park Jogger. She began a career as an inspirational speaker. She also works with victims of sexual assault and brain injury in the Mount Sinai sexual assault and violence intervention program. She continues to manifest some after-effects of the assault, including memory loss.
Other victims and chronology
- Michael Vigna, a competitive bike rider hassled about 9:05 pm by the group, one of whom tried to punch him.
- Antonio Diaz, a 52-year-old man walking in the park near 105th Street, was knocked to the ground by teenagers about 9:15 pm, who stole his bag of food and bottle of beer. He was left unconscious but soon found by a policeman.
- Gerald Malone and Patricia Dean, riding on a tandem bike, were attacked on East Drive south of 102nd Street about 9:15 pm by boys who tried to stop them and grab Dean; the couple called police after reaching a call box.
The remaining victims were attacked by members of the large group while jogging near the reservoir:
- David Lewis, banker, attacked and robbed about 9:25–9:40
- Robert Garner, attacked about 9:30 pm.
- David Good, attacked about 9:47 pm.
- John Loughlin, 40-year-old teacher, severely beaten and kicked about 9:40–9:50 pm near the reservoir and left unconscious. He was also robbed of a Walkman and other items.
Three of the victims were black or Hispanic, like most of the suspects, complicating any narrative to attribute attacks solely to racial factors.
Arrests and investigation
Arrest of youths
The police were dispatched at 9:30 pm and responded with scooters and unmarked cars. Through the night, they apprehended about 20 teenagers. They took custody of Raymond Santana, 14; and Kevin Richardson, 14; along with three other teenagers at approximately 10:15 pm on Central Park West and 102nd Street. Steven Lopez, 14, was arrested with this group within an hour of the several attacks that were first reported to police. He was also interrogated.
The severely beaten Meili was not found until 1:30 am on April 20, but her discovery increased the urgency of police efforts to apprehend suspects. Antron McCray, 15; Yusef Salaam, 15; and Korey Wise (then known as Kharey Wise), 16, were brought in for questioning later that day (April 20), after having been identified by other youths in the large group as participants in or present at some of the attacks on other victims. Korey Wise said he had not been involved, and accompanied Salaam because they were friends.
The police arrested additional suspects over a period of 48 hours after the night of April 19, and interrogated numerous others. Among these were Clarence Thomas, 14, who was arrested on April 21, 1989 on charges related to the rape of the female jogger. After further investigation, he was never indicted, and all charges were dismissed against him on October 31, 1989. Also arrested in this period, on charges of attacks against other persons in the park, and later indicted were Jermaine Robinson, 15; Antonio Montalvo, 18; and Orlando Escobar, 16.
The five juveniles who later became known as the Central Park Five were interviewed for at least seven hours each before the detectives attempted to record their statements as videotaped confessions. Some were held longer without relief, or food or drink. The videotaped confessions were not started until April 21, after some of the suspects had been kept awake for two days. Santana, McCray, and Richardson made video statements in the presence of a parent, but no parents had been present during the lengthy police interrogations prior to that. Wise made a number of statements unaccompanied by any parent, guardian or counsel. Lopez was interviewed on videotape in the presence of his parents on April 21, 1989, beginning at 3:30 am. He named others of the group by first names in the group attacks on other persons, but denied any knowledge of the female jogger. None of the six had defense attorneys during the interrogations or videotape process.
When taken into custody, Salaam told the police he was 15 years old but showed them identification that said he was 16, which he said was false. If a suspect had reached 16 years of age, his parents or guardians no longer had a right to accompany him during police questioning, or to refuse to permit him to answer any questions. After Salaam's mother arrived at the station, she insisted that she wanted a lawyer for her son, and the police stopped the questioning. He neither made a videotape nor signed the earlier written statement, but the court ruled to accept it as evidence before his trial.
Salaam allegedly made verbal admissions to police. He confessed to being present at the rape only after the detective falsely told him that fingerprints had been found on the victim's clothing and if his matched, he would be charged with rape. He said years later, "I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room", and "they would come and look at me and say: 'You realize you're next.' The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out."
April 21 press conference and media coverage
On April 21, senior police investigators held a press conference to announce having apprehended about 20 suspects in the attacks of a total of nine people in Central Park two nights before, and began to offer their theory of the attack and rape of the female jogger. Her name was withheld as a victim of a sex crime. The police said up to 12 youths were believed to have attacked the jogger.
The main suspects were a sub-group within the loose gang of 30-32 teenagers who had assaulted strangers in the park as part of an activity that the police said the teenagers referred to as "wilding". New York City senior detectives said the term was used by the suspects when describing their actions to police. The police described the attacks as "random" and "motiveless", saying they had "terrorized" people in the park. This account of the term "wilding" was soon disputed by investigative reporter Barry Michael Cooper, who said that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from rapper Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing". There was massive media coverage of the conference, with the rape and beating of the female jogger especially recounted in dramatic, inflammatory language.
Normal police procedure stipulated that the names of criminal suspects under the age of 16 were to be withheld from the media and the public. But this policy was ignored when the names of the arrested juveniles were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted. For example, the name of Kharey Wise (he later adopted the use of Korey as his first name) was published in an April 25, 1989 article in the Philadelphia Daily News about the attack on the female jogger.
By that time, more information had been published about the primary suspects in the rape, who did not seem to satisfy typical profiles of perpetrators. Common factors had been ruled out. Reporters had found that some came from stable, financially secure families; police had ruled out drugs or major robbery, and most had no criminal records. On April 26, 1989, the New York Times published a cautionary editorial against the use of labels and questioning why such "well-adjusted youngsters" could have committed such a "savage" crime. As noted in the Lead about later events, the DA's office and the court ultimately determined that they had not. But at the time, the theory of the gang rape continued.
After the major media's decisions to print the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects, they and their families received serious threats. Other residents living at the Schomburg Plaza, where four suspects lived, were also threatened. Because of this, editors of the City Sun and the Amsterdam News chose to use Meili's name in their own continuing coverage of the events.
Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, who came to support the five suspects, said to 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."
On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump, a real estate magnate, called for the return of the death penalty in full-page advertisements published in all four of the city's major newspapers. Trump said he wanted the "criminals of every age" who were accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park 12 days earlier "to be afraid". The advertisement, which cost an estimated US$85,000 (equivalent to $172,000 in 2018), said, in part,
"Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!"
According to defendant Yusef Salaam, quoted in a February 2016 article in The Guardian, Trump "was the fire starter" in 1989, as "common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing that we were guilty." Salaam said his family received death threats after papers ran Trump's full-page ad urging the death penalty.
May 4, 1989
- Michael Briscoe, 17, was initially arrested for the rape of the female jogger, but was indicted for riot and assault related to the attack of David Lewis, one of the four male joggers near the reservoir. In a plea deal arranged in June 1990, he was allowed to plead guilty to assault and immediately sentenced to a year in prison, with credit for time served.
- Jermaine Robinson, 15, was indicted on multiple counts of robbery and assault in the attacks on Lewis and John Loughlin, another jogger near the reservoir. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty on October 5, 1989 to robbery of Loughlin and was sentenced to a year in a juvenile facility.
May 10, 1989
Six youths were indicted in the attack and rape of the female jogger (the media continued to withhold Meili's identity, which was common practice for victims of sex crimes), and additional charges related to the attack and robbery of John Loughlin:
- Steve Lopez, 14,
- Antron McCray, 15,
- Kevin Richardson, 14,
- Yusef Salaam, 15,
- Raymond Santana, 14, and
- Kharey Wise, 16.
Each of the youths pleaded "Not guilty." Lopez, Richardson, and Salaam were able to make the $25,000 bail imposed by the court. The two other youths under 16 were returned to a juvenile facility to be held there until trial. Classified as an adult at 16, Korey Wise was separated from the others from the first and held in an adult jail at Rikers Island until trial. Four of the six youths who were indicted for the rape lived at the Schomburg Plaza, 1309 Fifth Avenue, at the northeast corner of Central Park near 110th Street; two lived further north of there. The ones at Schomburg included friends Salaam and Wise, who lived in the northwest tower, and Kevin Richardson and Steve Lopez, who knew the others from the neighborhood. The two other defendants lived further north of there. This was a large mixed-income complex with two 35-story towers and a multi-story associated rectangular building. Designed for families, the complex was built in 1974 and was partially subsidized by the city and federal government; it had 600 households, in apartments ranging in size from studios to five bedrooms. (Removed from the Mitchell-Lama program in the early 21st century and sold to a private company, it is now known as The Heritage.)
January 10, 1990
- Orlando Escobar, 16, was indicted for three counts of robbery, two counts of assault, and one count of riot related to the attack on John Loughlin. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty on March 14, 1991 to attempted robbery in 2nd degree, and was sentenced to 6 months incarceration and 4 1/2 years probation.
- Antonio Montalvo, 18, was charged with two counts of robbery and one of assault, related to the attack on Antonio Diaz. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty on January 29, 1991 to robbery in 2nd degree, and was sentenced to 1 year.
Evidence offered at court
Four of the five had confessed to police about other attacks, including robbery and assault, to which they said they were witnesses or participants, which were committed in the park in other areas on the night of April 19. These statements were produced as a result of continued questioning also about the assault to the female jogger, and interwoven with comments about that. Their videotaped confessions covered both areas. Salaam's unsigned statement also covered the range of actions and crimes.
"Unlike the accurate accounts they gave to police of those events [other attacks in the park], their confessions to the assault on the jogger were wrong about where, when and how it happened." Only Wise made any statement about the different scenes of the jogger attack, and detectives had taken him to the park to the crime scene before his videotaped confession.
Each of the suspects had made different errors in time and place about the jogger attack in their confessions, with most placing it near the reservoir. None of the five said that he had raped the jogger, but each confessed to having been an accomplice to the rape. Each youth said that he had only helped restrain the jogger, or touched her, while one or more others had raped her. Their confessions varied as to who they identified as having participated in the rape, including naming several youths who were never charged. Antron McCray said that a "Puerto Rican kid with a hoodie" had been the one who had raped the jogger.
Although four suspects (except Salaam) 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 by police into making false confessions. While the confessions were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.
Numerous pretrial hearings were conducted by Judge Thomas B. Galligan of the State Supreme Court of Manhattan, who had been assigned the case. In one of these on February 23, 1990, he ruled that he would accept the videotape confessions and Salaam's unsigned statement as prosecution evidence at trial, despite defense counsels' objections. He said that Salaam's statement was being admitted as evidence on the grounds that Salaam had lied to police about his age and showed them false identification. Salaam was implicated in the rape by the confessions of the other four youths.
Analysis indicated that none of the suspects had DNA that matched the DNA collected from two parts of the crime scene. But results were reported as "inconclusive" by police. At trial, the FBI expert discussed the significance of both DNA samples having come from the same source, a single unidentified man, and said that none of the defendants' DNA matched the sample. Since no DNA or other substantive physical evidence tied the suspects to the crime, the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the youths' confessions.
In 1990 the six suspects indicted in the attack on the female jogger and other crimes were scheduled for trial.
The prosecution arranged to try the six defendants in the Meili case in two separate groups. This enabled them to control the order in which certain evidence would be introduced to the court.
As noted, Steve Lopez was the sixth teenager indicted on charges related to the assault and rape of the jogger, and included by the prosecution with this group of defendants. Michael Briscoe was arrested on these charges as well, but not indicted. Both youths are included in a 1990 courtroom photograph of the defense table, with the three other defendants and defense counsels, scheduled to be tried together. This is before the first trial began.
Prosecutors concluded no evidence tied Michael Briscoe, 18, to the rape case. He made a plea deal on May 31, 1990, related to the assault and robbery of David Lewis, a banker, in an earlier incident in the park. He pleaded guilty to assault and was immediately sentenced to a year in jail on this charge, and for the unrelated sale of a drug to an undercover police officer, and credited with time served.
Lopez was scheduled to be tried in January 1991, after the two other groups of defendants. He had denied any knowledge of the rape in his videotaped confession, but was implicated by other defendants' statements. Like the five others, he was also indicted on charges related to the attack and robbery of Loughlin. (See "January 1991 plea bargain..." section below.)
In the first trial, which began June 25 and ended on August 18, 1990, defendants Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana were tried. Each of the teenagers had his own defense counsel.
The jury consisted of four European Americans, four African Americans, four Latinos, and one Asian American. Meili testified at the trial, but her identity was not given to the court. None of the three defense attorneys cross-examined her. The jury deliberated for 10 days before rendering its verdict on August 18. Each of the three youths was acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of assault and rape of the female jogger, and convicted of assault and robbery of John Loughlin, a male jogger who was badly beaten that night in Central Park. Salaam and McCray were 15 years old, and Santana 14 years old, at the time of the crime.
They were each sentenced by Judge Thomas B. Galligan to the maximum allowed for juveniles, 5–10 years each in a youth correctional facility.
The second trial, of Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise, began October 22, 1990 and also lasted about two months, ending in December. Kevin Richardson, 14 years old at the time of the crime, had been free on $25,000 bail before the trial.
ADA Elizabeth Lederer had a lengthy opening statement, and Wise broke down at the defense table after it, weeping and shouting that she had lied. He was removed temporarily from the courtroom. Richardson's defense counsel made a motion for a mistrial, because of the potential effect on the jury, but the judge rejected it. The trial proceeded.
The defense attorneys noted that each youth had limited intellectual ability and said that neither was capable of preparing the written statements or videotaped confessions submitted by the prosecution as evidence. The counsels contended that the confessions had been coerced from youths vulnerable to pressure.
Meili testified again at this trial; again, her name was not given in court. This time one of the defense counsels, Wise's lawyer, cross-examined her. She later said in an interview on Oprah: "I'll tell you what—I didn't feel wonderful about the boys' defense attorneys, especially the one who cross-examined me. He was right in front of my face and, in essence, calling me a slut by asking questions like 'When's the last time you had sex with your boyfriend?'" Wise's lawyer had also asked her whether she had ever been assaulted by men in her life, suggested that a man she knew may have attacked her, and implied that her injuries were not as severe as they had been presented.
Richardson was the only one of the five defendants to be convicted of attempted murder of Meili, in addition to sodomy and assault of her, and robbery and riot in the attack on John Loughlin, another jogger in the park. He was sentenced to 5–10 years in a juvenile facility.
Korey Wise, 16 years old at the time of the crime, was acquitted of rape and attempted murder. While incarcerated in the Rikers Island adult jail before the trial, Korey Wise allegedly told Melody Jackson, the older sister of a friend of his, that he had restrained and fondled the jogger. Jackson so testified at his trial.
Wise was convicted of lesser charges of sexual abuse, assault, and riot in the attack on the female jogger and on Loughlin. Because of his age and the violent nature of the felony charge, he was tried and sentenced as an adult, receiving 5–15 years in adult prison. 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."
Jurors who agreed to interviews after the trials said that they were not convinced by the youths' confessions, but were impressed by the physical evidence introduced by the prosecutors: semen (although none of the defendants' DNA matched the two samples in the evidence, both noted as belonging to another, unidentified man), grass, dirt, and two hairs described as "consistent with" the victim's hair:6 that were recovered from Richardson's underpants. (Note: More advanced DNA testing in 2002 established that, in fact, these hairs in Richardson's clothes did not come from the victim.)
But with DNA evidence still comprising a new kind of testimony at most trials, the jurors did not seem to understand the most important evidence: the fact that each of the five defendants' DNA was conclusively excluded from matching that found in two samples, both of which belonged to another, unidentified male. The FBI witness testified that in fact, the DNA of a total of 14 men was tested, including Meili's former boyfriend, and in each case was excluded as not matching those samples collected from the victim and a sock at the scene.
Sentencing and appeals
After the guilty verdicts, the judge sentenced the defendants to the maximum for the charges and their ages. The four youths under 16 were sentenced to 5-10 years each. They had been held in a juvenile facility since their arrest. Wise at 16 was tried and sentenced as an adult because of the nature of the violent felony charges against him, under the Juvenile Offender Law of 1978. He was sentenced to 5-15 years.
On appeal, Salaam's attorneys charged that he had been held by police without access to parents or guardians. The majority appellate court decision upholding his conviction noted that Salaam had initially lied to police about his age, claiming to be 16 and backing up his claim with a forged transit pass that, falsely, indicated that he was 16. This was the age at which a suspect could be questioned without a parent or guardian present. When Salaam informed police of his true age, they allowed his mother entry to the interrogation room.
The case attracted nationwide attention. It was the subject of many articles and books, both during the trials and after the convictions.
In a 2016 Guardian article, defense counsel William Warren was reported saying that he thought Trump's ads in 1989 had played a role in securing conviction by the juries, saying that "he poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York City and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim." He noted, "Notwithstanding the jurors' assertions that they could be fair and impartial, some of them or their families, who naturally have influence, had to be affected by the inflammatory rhetoric in the ads." In 2019 Time Magazine also assessed Trump's ads in 1989 as having adversely affected the case for the defendants.
January 1991 plea bargain for Lopez
Although ADA prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer had said she would not accept a plea deal for any of the defendants indicted in the rape case, she did come to agreement with Steve Lopez and his attorney in the court on January 30, 1991, prior to a new jury being selected for his trial. He was considered the final of the six defendants in the jogger trial. Because Lopez had made no statement to police, and prosecution witnesses had withdrawn from testifying, based on what they said was fear of self-recrimination or "fear of their own safety", according to Lederer, the prosecution's case was extremely weak. Although other of the five defendants who had been convicted had accused Lopez of the most severe violence against the jogger in their statements, these could not be used against him. After agreeing to the plea deal, Judge Galligan allowed Lopez to remain free on $25,000 bail until sentencing. He was sentenced in March 1991 to 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years, after pleading guilty to the mugging of jogger John Loughlin. Because Lopez was younger than 16 at the time of the crime, he was sentenced to serve his time in a juvenile facility.
The four younger defendants of the five who were convicted of the assault and rape of the jogger, who became known as the Central Park Five, served more than six and less than seven years each in prison, with Salaam serving nearly seven years. Each was held in juvenile facilities. Richardson, Salaam, and Santana attended classes. Each gained a GED degree and also completed associate degrees while held in prison.
Richardson and Salaam were released in 1997. Afterward Salaam talked about how important family was. He was part of an Islamic community and served as a spiritual leader at his youth facility, but talked about how important his mother's visits were. He was held at a juvenile facility about five miles from the Canadian border, hours from New York City, but she came to see him three times a week.
In this period of the 1990s, at a time of increasing severity of treatment of youth, most juveniles in New York were sent "to large facilities, operated either by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) or by private providers contracted by OCFS. These facilities were largely located in upstate New York, far from youths’ homes and communities, particularly for youth from New York City."
Wise had to serve all of his time in adult prison, and encountered so much personal violence that he asked to stay in isolation for extended periods. He was held at three different prisons, having asked for transfers in the hope of improving his situation. Isolation had its own severe challenges. He was released in August 2002, the last of the five men to leave prison.
Through this period, each of the five continued to maintain his innocence in the rape and attack of Meili, including at hearings before parole boards. Taking responsibility for that crime and expressing remorse might have helped one or more to gain earlier release. While they acknowledged "witnessing or participating in other wrongdoing" in the park, they each maintained innocence in the attack of Meili.
Convictions vacated in 2002
In 2001, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes was serving a life sentence in New York state. He had never been identified as a suspect in the Central Park attack on Meili, although he had been at large at the time. Reyes was later believed to have raped another woman in the same area of the park during the day on April 17, two days before his attack there on Meili. During that summer, he raped four more women, killing one; and was interrupted after robbing a fifth.
In 2001 Reyes met Wise when he was held at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York. In 2002, Reyes told officials that on the night of April 19, 1989, he had assaulted and raped the jogger. He was 17 years old at the time and said that he had acted alone. Reyes was then working at an East Harlem convenience store on Third Avenue and 102nd Street, and living in a van on the street.
District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau appointed a team led by ADAs Nancy Ryan and Peter Casolaro to investigate the case, based on Reyes' confession and a review of evidence. Reyes provided officials with a detailed account of the attack, details of which were corroborated by other evidence which the police held. In addition, his DNA matched the DNA evidence at the scene, confirming that he was the sole source of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people". In announcing these facts, the DA also said that the perpetrator had tied up Meili with her T-shirt in a distinctive fashion that Reyes used again on later victims in crimes for which he was convicted.
Based on interviews and other evidence, the team believed that Reyes had acted alone: The rape appeared to have taken place in the North Woods area after the main body of the thirty teenagers had moved well to the south, and the timeline reconstruction of events made it unlikely that he was joined by any of the defendants. In addition, Reyes was not known to have been associated with any of the six indicted defendants, and lived at 102nd Street in what locals considered another neighborhood. None of the six defendants in the rape mentioned him by name in association with the rape.
Reyes was not prosecuted for the rape of Meili because the statute of limitations had passed. At the time of his confession, Reyes had been convicted and sentenced to life in state prison for raping and robbing four other women in the summer of 1989, murdering one of them; and robbing another. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to the top counts in each of the five cases on November 1, 1991.
DNA analysis of the strands of hair found on the clothing of two of the defendants, conducted with advanced technology not available at the time of their trial, established that the hair did not belong to the victim, despite what the prosecution had testified to at trial.
Based on the newly discovered evidence, each of the five men who had been convicted of charges related to the rape of Meili filed motions to have their convictions set aside and for the court "to grant whatever further relief may be just and proper."
Recommendation to vacate charges
As a result of his team's review, Reyes's confession, and the DNA evidence that confirmed he was the sole person to rape Meili, District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau recommended vacating the convictions of the five defendants who had been convicted and sentenced to prison. Supporters of the five defendants again claimed that their confessions had been coerced by police.
During the re-investigation, the DA's office questioned the veracity of their confessions, because of their many inconsistencies and their lack of correspondence to established facts in the case. 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.
In addition to the confessions, the report noted that a "reconstruction of the events in the park has bared a significant conflict, one that was hinted at but not explored in depth at the trials: at the time the jogger was believed to have been attacked, the teenagers were said to be involved -- either as spectators or participants -- in muggings elsewhere in the park."
In light of the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, DA Morgenthau recommended that the court also vacate the convictions for the other crimes that night, such as robbery or assault, to which the defendants had confessed. His 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 was trustworthy. In addition, the defendants had already served more time than they likely would have received based on those charges alone.
At the time and later, Morgenthau's recommendation to vacate the convictions was strongly opposed by Linda Fairstein, who had directed the original prosecution; as well as by lead detectives on the case, and some other members of the police department.
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. All five of the defendants had completed their prison sentences at the time of Tejada's order; their names were cleared in relation to this case. This also enabled their being removed from New York State's sex offender registry. In addition to having had difficulty getting employment or renting housing, as registered offenders, they had been required to report to authorities in person every three months.
Defendant Santana remained in jail to complete a different sentence, having been convicted of an unrelated later crime. But his attorney said that his sentence had been greater in that case because of his earlier conviction in the Meili attack.
Lawyers for the five defendants repeated their assessment that Trump's advertisements in 1989 had inflamed public opinion about the case. After Reyes confessed to the crime and said he acted alone, defense counselor Michael W. Warren said, "I think Donald Trump at the very least owes a real apology to this community and to the young men and their families." Protests were held outside Trump Tower in October 2002 with protestors chanting, "Trump is a chump!" Trump did not apologize.
Following these events, in 2002, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly commissioned a panel of three lawyers to review the case. The panel was made up of two lawyers, Michael F. Armstrong, the former chief counsel to the Knapp Commission; and Jules Martin, a former police officer and now New York University Vice President; as well as Stephen Hammerman, deputy police commissioner for legal affairs. The panel issued a 43-page report in January 2003.
In its January 2003 Armstrong Report, the panel "did not dispute the legal necessity of setting aside the convictions of the five defendants based on the new DNA evidence that Mr. Reyes had raped the jogger." But it disputed acceptance of Reyes's claim that he alone had raped the jogger. It said there was "nothing but his uncorroborated word" that he acted alone. Armstrong said the panel believed "the word of a serial rapist killer is not something to be heavily relied upon."
The report concluded that the five men whose convictions had been vacated had "most likely" participated in the beating and rape of the jogger and that the "most likely scenario" was that "both the defendants and Reyes assaulted her, perhaps successively." The report said Reyes had most likely "either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants had moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death."
Despite the analysis conducted by the District Attorney's Office, New York City detectives supported the 2003 Armstrong Report by the police department (see below). The panel said there had been "no misconduct in the 1989 investigation of the Central Park jogger case."
As to the five defendants, the report said:
We believe the inconsistencies contained in the various statements were not such as to destroy their reliability. On the other hand, there was a general consistency that ran through the defendants' descriptions of the attack on the female jogger: she was knocked down on the road, dragged into the woods, hit and molested by several defendants, sexually abused by some while others held her arms and legs, and left semiconscious in a state of undress.
Lawsuits against New York City
In 2003, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray sued the city for $250 million for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused for a decade 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. New York City lawyers under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg believed the city would win the case if it went to civil trial.
Under newly elected Mayor Di Blasio, New York City announced a settlement in June 2014 in the case for about $40 million. Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson each received around $7.1 million from the city for their years in prison, while Wise received $12.2 million because he had served six additional years. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement. The settlement averaged roughly $1 million for each year of imprisonment that each of the men had served.
As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims, before Judge Alan Marin. Speaking of the second suit, against the state, Santana said: "When you have a person who has been exonerated of a crime, the city provides no services to transition him back to society. The only thing left is something like this—so you can receive some type of money so you can survive." They received a total settlement of $3.9 million from the state in 2016, with varying amounts related to the period of time that each man had served in prison.
Settlement and exonerations disputed
In 2014 after New York City settled the wrongful conviction suit, persons who persisted in disputing the court's decision in 2002 to vacate the convictions of the five men returned to the media to argue their cases. Among those re-arguing the case were conservative columnist Ann Coulter and retired New York City detective Edward Conlon, who had been involved with the case. In his article published in October 2014 in The Daily Beast, Conlon gave quotes allegedly made by more than one of the youths after they had been taken into custody by police in April 1989, but did not say whether he had heard these directly.
Similarly, two doctors who had treated Meili after the attack said in 2014, after the settlement, that some of her injuries appeared to be inconsistent with Reyes' claim that he had acted alone. But a forensic pathologist who testified at the 1990 trial said that it was impossible to tell from the victim's injuries how many people had participated in the assault, as did the New York City chief medical examiner in 2002 when assessing Reyes's confession and the ADAs' investigation of his claims.
Donald Trump also returned to the media, writing a 2014 opinion article for the New York Daily News. He said the settlement was "a disgrace," and that the men were likely guilty: "Settling doesn't mean innocence. ... Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels."
The controversy over the case has been revived again since then. During his campaign in October 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that the Central Park Five were guilty and that their convictions should not have been vacated. Trump said to CNN: "They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. 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."
The men of the Central Park Five criticized Trump at the time for his statement, noting they had falsely confessed under police coercion. Other critics included U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who said that Trump's responses were "outrageous statements about the innocent men in the Central Park Five case." He cited this as among his reasons to retract his endorsement of the candidate.
Lives of the men post-exoneration
- Antron McCray was the first to move away from the city. He is married, has six children, and lives in Georgia.
- Kevin Richardson is married and lives with his family in New Jersey. According to the Innocence Project, he has acted as an advocate with Santana and Salaam to reform New York State's criminal justice practices, advocating methods to prevent false confessions and eyewitness misidentifications. Among their goals was required videotaping of interrogations by law enforcement; such a law was passed by the legislature and went into effect on April 1, 2018.
- Yusef Salaam has been an advocate for reform in the criminal justice system and prisons, particularly for juveniles. He has spoken against practices such as false confessions and eyewitness misidentifications that lead to wrongful convictions, and works as a motivational speaker. Also living in Georgia, he is married with ten children. He serves as a board member of the Innocence Project. As noted, Salaam was an advocate for the law passed in 2017 requiring videotaping of accused subjects in all custodial interrogations for serious crimes. In 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama.
- Raymond Santana also lives in Georgia, not far from McCray. He serves as a criminal justice advocate with the Innocence Project and spoke in New York to audiences with Richardson and Salaam to advocate passage of the above law that passed in 2017. He has appeared with other exonerees in presentations at local schools and colleges as well. In 2018 he started a clothing company, Park Madison NYC, named after the intersection near his former home in New York. Some of his merchandise commemorates the men of the Central Park Five.
- Korey Wise, the only one of the five who still lives in New York City, works as a speaker and justice activist. He donated $190,000 of his 2014 settlement to the chapter of the Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School, to aid other wrongfully convicted people to gain exoneration. They renamed the project in his honor as the Korey Wise Innocence Project.
Contemporaneous cases compared by the media
The Central Park events, all attributed then to members of the large group of youths who attacked numerous persons in the park, including whites, blacks and Hispanics, were covered as an extreme example of the violence that was occurring in the city, including assaults and robberies, rapes and homicides. Focusing on rapes in the same week as the one in Central Park, the New York Times reported on April 29, 1989, on the "28 other first-degree rapes or attempted rapes reported across New York City". The fourth one, on April 17, took place during the day in the park and is now tied to Reyes.
Soon after the Central Park rape, when public attention was on the theory of a gang of young suspects, a brutal attack took place in Brooklyn on May 3, 1989. A 30-year-old black woman was robbed, raped and thrown from the roof of a four-story building by three young men. She fell 50 feet, suffering severe injuries. The incident received little media coverage in May 1989, when the focus was on the Central Park case. The woman's injuries required extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation.
The New York Times continued to report on the case, and followed up on prosecution of suspects. Tyrone Prescott, 17, Kelvin Furman, 22, and another young man, Darren Decotea (name corrected a few days later as Darron Decoteau), 17, were apprehended within two weeks and prosecuted for the crimes. They arranged plea deals with the prosecution in October 1990 before trial; the first two were sentenced to 6 to 18 years in prison. Decoteau had made a plea deal in February in which he agreed to testify against the other two. He was sentenced on October 10, 1990 to 4-12 years in prison. Social justice activists and critics have pointed to the lack of extensive coverage of the attack of the woman in Brooklyn as showing the media's racial bias; they have accused it of overlooking violence against minority women.
Representation in other media
- Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon premiered their The Central Park Five, a documentary film about the case, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Documentarian Ken Burns said he hoped the material of the film would push the city to settle the men's case against it.
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 2003 federal civil lawsuit brought against the city by three of the convicted youths. 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 wrongfully convicted men. In February 2013, U.S. Judge Ronald L. Ellis quashed the city's subpoena.
- On May 31, 2019, Ava DuVernay's When They See Us, a four-episode feature, was released on Netflix. DuVernay co-wrote and directed the drama. Its release and wide viewing on Netflix prompted renewed discussion of the case, the criminal justice system, and of the lives of the five men.
- An opera, also called The Central Park Five, premiered in Long Beach, California by the Long Beach Opera Company on June 15, 2019. The music is by composer Anthony Davis and the libretto by Richard Wesley. An earlier version, Five, was premiered in Newark, New Jersey by the Trilogy Company.
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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.
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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.
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Justice Thomas B. Galligan allowed the statements as evidence [at the trial] because Salaam had given police a student transit pass with a false birth date written in. The false birth date indicated Salaam was a year older than he was.
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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.
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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.
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The woman told investigators that she was approached by three men, who forced her onto the building's roof, raped and sodomized her and threw her off the roof
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slashed her lip before he and Prescott shoved the woman into an air shaft, authorities said. There she lay, half naked, moaning and crying for help until a neighbor heard her.
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...in their holding cells, the teens launched into a raucous rendition of Tone Loc's sexually charged hip-hop anthem, "Wild Thing." It was this phrase, misheard by a police reporter as "wilding," which is the genesis of the now-infamous verb.
- Case docket: In re McRay, Richardson, Santana, Wise and Salaam Litigation, December 2003 filing of lawsuit against NYC
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