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The Central Park Five (1989)

Image Ownership: Public domain

The Central Park Five was a group of five juvenile males, four African Americans, Yusef Salaam, 16, Anthony McCray, 16, Kharey Wise, 18, and Kevin Richardson, 16, and one Hispanic, Raymond Santana, 15, all from the New York City, New York neighborhood of Harlem, who were variously tried and convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, and the assault of Trisha Meili, 28, in New York City’s Central Park on April 19, 1989.   Their trial was known as the “Central Park jogger trial” in the press and according to the New York Times was “one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s.”

On the evening of April 19, 1989, police received reports about a gang of approximately 30 youths assaulting and robbing people in the Northern most section of Central Park.  Multiple people were attacked and robbed by this group as they moved south through the park.  Police were dispatched by 9:30 p.m. and one victim told police that he was attacked by a group of four to five black youths.

Although police were in the area, Meili, who was on her nightly jog in the northern section of Central Park, was attacked, beaten, raped and left for dead between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.  New York City police did not find her until 1:30 a.m.  She was so badly beaten that doctors assumed she would die from her injuries but instead she recovered after a 12-day coma.

Police arrested Santana and Richardson at approximately 10:15 p.m. and McCray, Salaam and Wise later that evening after being identified by other youths as participating in the attack.  All five teenagers were interviewed for hours by the police with a parent or guardian present and each confessed to participating in a rape and assaulting people in Central Park that night.

Within weeks of their arrests, all five suspects retracted their statements claiming they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false statements by the police.  Real estate magnate and future US president Donald Trump inflamed public sentiment with a full-page newspaper ad demanding the death penalty.  The ad said the suspects deserved to suffer and should be afraid for their lives.  New York City Mayor Ed Koch also assumed the guilt of The Central Park Five and demanded justice.  All five members of The Central Park Five were found guilty and sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison.

In 2002, convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the rape and attempted murder of Meili and DNA evidence along with specific details of the assault supported his confession.  New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau determined that The Central Park Five’s convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili and the other convictions related to other attacks on April 19, 1989 be vacated by the court and The Central Park Five released.

In 2003, the five formerly convicted men sued the City of New York for malicious prosecution and in 2014 received a settlement of $41 million.  A lawsuit against the State of New York for $52 million was still pending as of December 2014.

Sources:
“The Central Park Five,” New York Daily News, NYDailynews.com (2013) http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/playing-fast-loose-slow-article-1.1269291; Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding (New York: Knopf, 2011).

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Southern New Hampshire University

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