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Trisha Meili was going for a run in New York’s Central Park on the night of April 19,1989. While jogging, she was knocked down, dragged and assaulted. She was also raped and almost beaten to death. At this same time in the park, a group of mostly minority youth were in the park allegedly assaulting and robbing victims. Trish was found at 1:30 am, naked, gagged, tied up and covered in mud and blood. The police apprehended 2 of the youth at 10:15 pm and later arrested 3 others after they were identified as participants or in the presence of the assaults.
The Five juveniles were interrogated for hours. 3 made video statements in the presence of their parents or guardians. One made a statement on his own that was in accordance with the law. The last showed police his ID that showed he was 16. Under New York law, if a minor was 16 during questioning, they no longer had the right to have a guardian present. The police interrogated the youth until his mom showed up, then they stopped the interrogation. Four of the five confessed to several attacks committed at Central Park that night. None of them admitted to the rape though each confessed to being an accomplice to the rape. All five were charged with the assault, rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili.
DNA analysis collected at the scene of the crimes didn’t match any of the suspects and showed that it came from a single yet unknown person. The NYC prosecutions case solely relied on the videotaped confessions of all 5 suspects. Rev. Calvin Butts told the New York Times, “The first thing you 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.” All the suspects retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions. One of the youth only confessed to being present after one of the detectives said he found his fingerprints on the victims clothing… falsely of course. One of the youth said he could hear the police beating up another of the youth in the next room over, and they told him, “you’re next.” Though all the confessions were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that went on before the Confessions were not videotaped.
In the first trial for the crimes, 3 of the 5 were convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. Two of the youth were 15, and one was 14 at the time of the attacks, they received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles 5–10 years. In the second trial, the other two youth were convicted of the same crimes. One was given 5–10 years the other 5–15 because he was 16 at the time of the crimes. The 14-year-old was also convicted on attempted murder at this trial. Four of the convictions were affirmed on appeal , one of the youth did not appeal. The 5 youth spent between six and thirteen years in prison.
Before the trials began our Current President, Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in all four of the cities significant newspapers advocating for the return of the death penalty, in particular in the Central Park Jogger case. Trump later said in an interview with Larry King that same year that “The problem with our society is the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights,” And that “maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.” The lawyers for the youth said Trump’s statements inflamed public opinion on the trial.
In 2001 a convicted serial rapist by the name of Matias Reyes who was already serving a life sentence for rape ran into one of the Central Park 5 in prison. Reyes confessed to assaulting and raping Meili on the night of April 19, 1989, and that he acted alone. He provided a detailed account of the attack, details which were corroborated by other evidence. Reyes DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the rape identifying him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on Meili. Meili was also tied up with her t-shirt in a distinctive pattern Reyes used on later victims. Because the Statute of limitations had passed on the case, Reyes was not prosecuted for the rape and assault. With Reyes confession and DNA evidence, the district attorney recommended vacating the convictions of the Central Park 5. A later more detailed look at the confessions provided significant discrepancies of the assault that night. All of the accounts differed from one another about 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, etc…. The DA also recommended the vacancies of the other crimes the other youth were convicted of that night.
Linda Fairstein the original Prosecutor for the crimes strongly opposed the overturning of the convictions, and New York City detectives still maintained that the 5 youth had “most likely” been Reyes accomplices in the crime. The convictions were vacated by the New York Supreme Court on December 19, 2002.
In 2003, 3 of the youth brought a $ 250 million lawsuit against the City of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The City then under the rule of Michael Bloomberg, refused to settle the cases for a decade. The City maintained that “the confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials,” therefore it established probable cause and the suit was flimsy.
In 2013 then-candidate Bill de Blasio pledged to settle the case if he were to win the Mayor’s election. De Blasio won and reached a settlement for $ 41 million for the Central Park five. The City didn’t admit to any wrongdoing in the agreement, but you can read between the lines and see the City is not just paying them $ 41 million just because. The settlement averaged roughly $ 1 million for each year of imprisonment for the men. The five men have filed another lawsuit against the City of New York seeking an additional $ 52 million in damages. This suit is still pending.
After New York City announced it would settle with the defendants, Our Current President Trump wrote an opinion article for the New York Daily News. He called the settlement “a disgrace” and said that the group’s guilt was still likely. Trump also said, “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.”
In October 2016, while Trump was running for President. He declared that the Central Park five were guilty and stated that their convictions should have never been vacated. Trump told CNN: “They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that the case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman so badly injured, will never be the same.” Trump’s statements caused Senator John Mccain to withdraw his endorsement of Trump. Acclaimed Documentarian Ken Burns called Trump’s comments “the height of vulgarity” and racist.
A little known fact about this case and that era was that a similar attack of a black woman took place in Brooklyn on May 2, 1989. She was raped and thrown off the roof of a four-story building. This case didn’t receive anywhere near the attention of the Central Park 5 case. The situation was brought to Trump’s attention, and he visited the victim in the hospital and promised to pay her medical expenses. It is unknown whether he followed through on that promise. I would bet he did not. I guess this victim was not the right color to draw the media’s attention.
Mistakes Were Made:
This case highlights all that’s wrong with the modern judicial system. A horrible crime of a white victim, a rush to round up and arrest some black suspects. The suspects not being afforded their constitutional rights and being interrogated for hours with no parent or lawyer present before finally “confessing.” The confessions being used as the primary evidence in the trial to convict the kids.
Only by the grace of God did the guy who did the act fess up and confess to it. The powers that be, though provided with overwhelming DNA evidence and testimony from Reyes about the crime and act still refused to believe the 5 had nothing to do with the crime. You have to think about how many other cases like this has happened? How many people are innocently locked up currently for crimes they didn’t commit? Modern society views anyone who was convicted of a crime and sent to prison as a criminal, but what if the person was just an unfortunate victim of wrong place, wrong time circumstances?
This case took place during the late ’80s and early ’90s where crime was considered out of control, and someone needed to take control and clean up society. Democrats were in control of federal government for the most part, and the leaders like Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden helped build up this industrial prison complex that we still have today. With this complex did was lock up minority men for any little infraction and made it very difficult for them to get and keep jobs and be contributing members to society. The lives of these young men were ruined by the NYC Police Department and District Attorney, and no amount of money will ever give them back the years of their lives they lost being incarcerated.
Let’s look at the actions of our Current President Donald Trump. He took out a full page ad in all the NYC newspapers basically calling for the death penalty for these five youth before the trial even began. This act tainted the jury pool and made it virtually impossible for these men to get a fair, impartial jury. Then when told that the City was settling with the men, he doubled down on his original statements and even with the DNA evidence and testimony still thinks the men are guilty. Finally, while running for President, he triples down on his previous comments and states again that the five men are guilty. A mark of a good man or leader is the ability to admit and apologize for his or her mistakes. We all are human, and we all make mistakes. Trump clearly lacks this trait like a lot of politicians do. This site is called “Mistakes were made,” to poke fun at the nonapology apology politicians make. In this case, you see the sad real world consequences of such a stance. There are no winners in this story everyone from Trump, Meili, The five men, NYC Police, and the district attorney all suffered in one way or the other. We can only hope that everyone (but Trump) learns from this horrific case and try not to repeat the many mistakes made.
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on May 20, 2019.