Assault with intent to destroy: The Central Park 5


I just finished watching a 2012 PBS/Ken Burns documentary called “The Central Park Five“.  The Central Park Five are five black teens who were arrested, convicted, and served prison time for the rape and beating of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park on April 19th, 1989.  The single most striking aspect of the case, aside from the fact that the teens didn’t do it, is that they confessed to having done it and the confessions served as the sole basis for the convictions.

One thing the establishment media seems to steer away from is naming the people who are actually responsible for justice system failures.  After all, they were just trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability, right?  Below is a brief list of some of the characters in this story.  If you ask the cops and prosecutors, I’m sure not a one will take any responsibility for this miscarriage of justice.

Trisha Ellen Meili.  The victim.  Not only was she white, but she was a 28 year old Solomon Brothers investment banker and daughter of a Westinghouse executive.  She was one of 3254 rapes reported in New York City that year and one of 28 first degree rapes that week.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam.  The accused, aged 14-16.  They were also victims.  Victims of over-zealous investigators and prosecutors.

Matias Reyes.  The guy who really raped and beat the Central Park Jogger.  He was arrested for rape and murder less than 4 months later in August 1989.  The cops were already so focused on The Central Park Five, they never checked Reyes DNA to see if he did it even after being told that the DNA excluded the five kids they had locked up.

Ed Koch.  Mayor of New York City and vocal supporter of the prosecution of the Central Park Five.

Robert M. Morgenthau.  New York County District Attorney.

Linda Fairstein. head of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.  Fairstein managed the prosecution of the Central Park Five.

Elizabeth Lederer.  Prosecutor in The Central Park Five case.

Benjamin Ward.  NYC Police Commissioner (until Oct 1989)

John Hartigan.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Michael Sheehan.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Robert Nugent.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

August Jonza.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Carlos Gonzalez.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Harry Hildebrandt.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Tom McKenna.  NYPD Detective in the Central Park Jogging Case.

Police and prosecutors controlled the story from the beginning and the establishment press, with the ritualistic predictability they are known for, repeated everything they said as if it had been delivered directly from the lips of God.   While they protected the name of the victim, the mainstream media readily broadcast the names of the five juveniles accused of the crime.  The media fueled fervor became so intense that the public outcry became a referendum on the death penalty.

There was absolutely no physical evidence attaching The Five to the crime scene.  DNA evidence excluded them from the rape.  There were serious time line conflicts that placed the kids in a different area of the park at the time of the rape.  The only case against them was their confessions and the people who elicited those confessions sending those kids to prison, never got so much as a slap on the wrist.

Two days before this event, there was another assault in the park.  The woman escaped and reported to police that the perpetrator had a scar on his chin that had stitches.  A resourceful police officer went to all the local hospitals and came up with the name Matias Reyes as a possible suspect.  Had the NYPD followed up on that lead, if they had compared his DNA to the DNA collected from the Central Park Jogger, they would have found the real rapist, instead of pinning the crime on whomever was handy.  Reyes escaped justice long enough to rape and murder another woman, this one 24 years old and pregnant.

The bottom line is that investigators and prosecutors decided to pin this crime on five kids who knew nothing about the rape and, through intimidation, deceit, and coaching actually got them to confess to it in enough detail to sound convincing.  Only the most naive of idiots could believe that was an innocent mistake and only the most naive of idiots could possibly think that case was an anomaly rather than a result of ingrained police and prosecutorial culture that values convictions over justice.

Even after Reyes confessed and his DNA proved he was the rapist, Linda Fairstein opposed the recommendation to vacate the convictions of the Central Park Five.  New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, instituted an internal investigation back in 2003 clearing NYPD officers of any misconduct in the case (what a surprise!) and stands by the convictions saying that the Central Park Five assaulted Meili before Reyes  or simultaneously.  He is still NYC Police Commissioner today, helping to perpetuate that same level of ineptitude and delusion.  After all, if nothing is broken, there’s nothing to fix.

The PBS Central Park Five documentary is based on a book by Sarah Burns, daughter of Ken Burns.  Nepotism reigns supreme in the media business.  New York City officials have condemned the documentary as advocacy rather than journalism.  I won’t argue against that claim because it may be true.  Anyone who looks to a single source of information expecting to find truth is deluding themselves.  Truth usually comes only by examining many sources and adding a heavy dose of skepticism and commons sense.  I don’t think Burns is above bias.  He would be a real rarity if he were.  Objectivity doesn’t usually breed that kind of success.  Nevertheless, any confession by an adolescent elicited during the course of 14-30 hours of intense interrogation by people who routinely use deceit, threats, and intimidation, all without benefit of a lawyer or parent, can’t be considered reliable.  And, since this is all the prosecutors had on these kids, the convictions can only be seen as a travesty.

The movie is about two hours long and is available to buy, rent, or watch for fee on line.