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Central Park Five: What to know about the jogger rape case

Netflix is expected to release a limited series about the Central Park jogger case this spring.

Raymond Santana, left, Yusef Salaam, center, and Kevin

Raymond Santana, left, Yusef Salaam, center, and Kevin Richardson, three of the Central Park Five, speak on the steps of City Hall on June 27, 2014, following the settlement of a civil lawsuit they brought against the city in connection with their wrongful conviction in 1989. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

The infamous Central Park Five case is getting the Netflix treatment.

The streaming service has announced a limited series about the five teens who were wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a woman jogger in Central Park in 1989.

Although their convictions were vacated in 2002, the lives of the five teens were irrevocably changed as they spent their formative adult years behind bars.

Scroll down to learn more about the Central Park Five ahead of the new Netflix series.

What is the Central Park jogger case?

On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili went for a jog in Central Park. Several hours later, the 28-year-old investment banker was found brutally beaten and raped, left to die in a ravine.

But the near-fatal attack on Meili, who suffered a fractured skull among other life-threatening injuries, was only one of several that took place in Central Park that night. A roaming group of more than 30 youths between the ages of 13 and 17 were suspected of assaulting other joggers, throwing rocks at bicyclists and harassing an elderly homeless man.

Investigators immediately grouped Meili’s assault in with the other reported attacks and began lengthy police interrogations of several teens who were suspected of being part of the group.

While Meili fought for her life at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan, police charged seven teenagers in connection with the crimes.

Meili, who was commonly referred to as the “Central Park jogger,” has said she does not remember the attack.

Who are the Central Park Five?

The Central Park Five are Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise. At the time of their arrests, they were between the ages of 14 and 16 years old.

While all five had initially confessed to participating in the Central Park attacks (confessions from Wise, McCray, Santana and Richardson were videotaped), the teens and their attorneys insisted they were coerced by investigators into giving false statements during interrogations that lasted hours.

In a 2016 Op-Ed published by the Washington Post, Salaam claimed the interrogators deprived him and the other teens of food, drink and sleep for over 24 hours.

Despite inconsistencies within the confessions, which were presented during the trial, and no physical evidence tying them to the crime scene, the teens were convicted of various charges during two separate trials in 1990.

Salaam, Santana and McCray were found guilty of rape, assault, robbery and riot in connection with attacks on Meili as well as separate assaults on two male joggers. All three were sentenced to five to 10 years in an upstate juvenile detention facility.

Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, assault and robbery in connection with the three attacks. He was sentenced to five to 10 years in a juvenile facility.

Wise, the only teen tried as an adult, was convicted of sexual abuse and assault in connection with Meili’s attack, but was acquitted of all counts related to the other two joggers. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

The Central Park Five served between six and 13 years but all of them had been released before their convictions were vacated in 2002.

The two other teens who had been arrested, Steven Lopez and Michael Briscoe, pleaded guilty to charges related to other attacks on joggers that night and avoided trials related to Meili’s assault.

Who is Matias Reyes?

Despite maintaining their innocence, the Central Park Five’s contention that their confessions were coerced didn’t gain credibility until June 2002, when Matias Reyes claimed sole responsibility for raping and beating Meili in Central Park.

Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, was serving a minimum 33-year prison sentence when he confessed to the crime. His DNA matched genetic material found at the crime scene and he provided details of the assault that led investigators to take his claim seriously.

Reyes also committed a similar assault on a woman in Central Park two days before Meili was found.

The NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office then began separate reinvestigations of the Central Park jogger case.

Reyes, meanwhile, could not be tried in the case because the statute of limitations had expired.

The Central Park Five are exonerated

Twelve years after they were found guilty, Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana and Wise were vindicated.

Following a lengthy investigation into the convictions, then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau recommended in December 2002 that all charges against the Central Park Five be thrown out. Later that same month, a judge set aside the verdicts.

It was a stunning turn of events that was denounced by police officials who were critical of the findings in the district attorney’s second investigation but hailed by criminal justice advocates who had supported the Central Park Five’s innocence.

In his ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada said Reyes’ confession, corroborated by his DNA match from the crime scene, created “the probability that . . . the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendants.”

Tejada did allow for a new trial against the Central Park Five, but the district attorney’s office instead decided to dismiss the original indictments.

Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana and Wise had already completed their sentences before their convictions were vacated.

In 2014, the Central Park Five settled a civil lawsuit against the city for $41 million.

The Trump connection

Long before his political aspirations were made known to the world, Donald Trump took a personal interest in the Central Park jogger case. Just days after the attack, the billionaire entrepreneur took out full-page ads in four major New York City newspapers that said, “bring back the death penalty, bring back our police!” The ad went on to make a case for the reinstatement of the death penalty so that the Central Park Five could be executed for their alleged crimes.

While Trump was campaigning for president in October 2016, he doubled down on his accusations of guilt against the Central Park Five in a statement provided to CNN.

“They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” Trump said in the statement. “The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”

In his 2016 Washington Post Op-Ed, Salaam said Trump never apologized for calling for the teens’ deaths and his new statements proved his “bias, racism and inability to admit that he’s wrong.”

What we know about the Netflix special

A limited series about the Central Park Five case will be released on Netflix this spring. The series, titled “When They See Us” (formerly “Central Park Five”), is directed by Ava DuVernay and is due out May. 31.

Netflix has revealed some of the main and supporting cast selected for the series, including Jharrel Jerome, of “Moonlight,” who will portray Wise, and Jovan Adepo, of “Fences,” who will play McCray. 

The following supporting roles also have been cast:

  • Felicity Huffman will play Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor who led the Manhattan district attorney's sex crimes office during the case.
  • John Leguizamo will play Santana’s father.
  • Michael K. Williams will play McCray’s father.
  • Vera Farmiga will play Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has immortalized the case. A documentary film — “The Central Park Five” by directors Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon — was released in 2012.


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