Revolutionary Worker #1179, December 15, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
When a middle-class woman was brutally beaten and raped while jogging in New York's Central Park in 1989, this system's police, prosecutors, courts, and media snapped into action. The cops zeroed in on five Black and Latino youths and claimed they had confessions and evidence proving their guilt. The prosecutors quickly charged the youths and brought them to trial for rape and assault.
The media whipped up a lynch-mob frenzy. Headlines in the press branded the youths a "teen wolfpack" who went "wilding." Real estate tycoon Donald Trump put out a full-page newspaper ad declaring "Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police." New York Times columnist George Will wrote, "A society that flinches from the fact of evil will flinch from the act of punishment."
The five youths--Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise--were convicted and sentenced to jail time of 7-1/2 to 13-1/2 years.
Thirteen years later, the whole case has been turned on its head. It's been shown, clearly and convincingly, that the conviction and sentencing of the five youth were based on lies and fabrication by the police and prosecutors. They were victims of the system's shameless, racist railroad.
On December 5 the Manhattan District Attorney submitted a report to the New York State Court admitting that the case against the five youths was a sham and recommending that all the charges against the youths be dismissed. The judge said he will rule on the recommendation by February 5.
The 58-page document from the D.A. outlines DNA and other evidence pointing to the fact that the five youths were wrongly convicted and that the real attacker was most likely Matias Reyes, who has confessed to the assault and rape of the Central Park jogger and other attacks on women. But the D.A.'s office--and the power structure they represent--offer NO apologies for the outrageous miscarriage of justice that put the youths in jail for years for a crime they did not commit.
Five youths had precious years of their lives snatched away from them. But the system has made NO moves to bring those responsible for the railroad to justice.
The Incident in Central Park
The year was 1989. After years of brandishing its huge arsenal of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. was pushing toward victory in the "Cold War." An elaborate CIA network brought money and guns to the U.S.-backed Contras in Nicaragua while drugs flowed into the ghettos and barrios of the U.S.
A reactionary anti-women offensive aimed at the right to abortion was raging. In New York City, there were increasing attacks against Black people. The trigger-happy racist Bernard Goetz became a hero in some quarters when he shot unarmed Black youth on the subway. The murder of Michael Griffith by a gang of racist whites in Howard Beach was still a fresh wound.
This was some of the backdrop to the events of April 19, 1989, and their aftermath.
It was around 8:30 on an unusually warm spring evening. A group of some 30 youth, most from East Harlem on the north end of Central Park, went into Central Park. They broke up into smaller groups, and some of them carried out several assaults and muggings in the park. This was the "wilding" (after the Tone Loc song of the day) that the authorities would make so much of.
Roughly in the same time period, a 28-year-old woman who worked as an investment banker was taking a late evening jog, moving toward the north end of the park. She too was attacked, but much more viciously. She was found later that night, unconscious and near death. She had been raped and brutally beaten.
The System Goes to Work
The police had rounded up some youth even before the jogger was found, and they arrested more youth afterwards. Then the cops went after the most vulnerable, interrogating them without the presence of lawyers or parents. The police were able to get some to point fingers, and in turn used that to get at others. Eventually, Raymond Santana, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Kharey Wise, 16 (the only youth charged as an adult); Yusef Salem, 15; and Antron McCray, 15, gave statements implicating themselves in the rape.
The police released the names of the youth to the press--breaking their own policy of keeping names of arrested minors confidential.
But as the police zeroed in on the five youth, they did not pursue a connection between the April 19 rape and one in the park just two days earlier. A passage in a Newsday article on April 22, 1989, now takes on great significance in relation to this point. According to Newsday,police detectives at first " thought the attack might have been committed by a suspect who recently assaulted a woman in a similar manner ."
In fact, the April 17 rape took place in the same area of the park , with almost the identical M.O. as the jogger case . But the police never followed up on the link between the two incidents. And the similarity between the two rapes was never introduced into the trials of the five youths.
The April 17 rape case went unsolved--until Matias Reyes's recent confession. Reyes has now admitted that he was the perpetrator of that earlier rape as well as the attack on the jogger two days later.
Truth about the "Confessions"
There is a powerful scene in the current off-Broadway production The Exonerated --a dramatic reading of the real life accounts of former death-row inmates who were wrongly sentenced to die. Gary Gauger has been brought in for questioning for the killing of his parents. His interrogators stand on elevated platforms on either side of him firing questions. Methodically they try and wrench a "confession" from him. He is able for a while to rebuff them, so they try a new tack. The ask him to tell them how he would have killed his parents if he had done it. Exhausted, exasperated, and disoriented, he tries to cobble together a scenario for them. From there it is a short trip to the courtroom, conviction, and death row. Gary Gauger did not kill his parents--two other men were later convicted of the crime. But as you watch you have a horrific front row seat into the seamy process of police interrogation.
In the Central Park case, the police and prosecutors produced no blood or semen matches linking the five accused youths with the crime. But instead of admitting the truth, the police and prosecutors said that the DNA tests were "inconclusive" and that the DNA from the crime site could have been from the youths.
The police made no attempt to compare the semen found at the rape scene with any other cases-- including the rape at the same location two days earlier.
The only actual piece of physical evidence that the authorities could attempt to tie to the youths were hairs found on Kevin Richardson's clothing. They said the hairs were a "probable" match to the jogger's. Today, it is known through more advanced DNA testing that the hairs found on Richardson were not from the jogger. This piece of police "evidence" was a total fake.
However, the prosecutors claimed to have one piece of very compelling "evidence"-- videotaped statements by the five youth "confessing" to the gang rape. The five youth quickly renounced the "confessions." They and their defenders said that the police obtained the videotaped statements through tricks and coercion. And the youth maintained their innocence while in prison--even though their "lack of remorse" meant spending a longer time in jail.
But the authorities insisted the "confessions" left no doubt that the youth were guilty. The taped confessions were released to the media--and this had a powerful effect in molding public opinion against these youth. People were manipulated into asking themselves, "Why would they say they did something--if they weren't guilty?"
Thirteen years later, the D.A. and other ruling class voices, including the New York Times , have to admit that the so-called confessions are full of holes and don't stand up to scrutiny. The New York Times recently wrote, "The record does show that much of what the youths said about the rape was wrong, including when, where and how it took place. Indeed, their description of the location, the victim's clothing and other details makes it seem, in retrospect, almost as if they were talking about another crime."
Kharey Wise's "confession" is typically instructive. Before he even sat before the police camera, the cops took him to the scene of the rape in Central Park. The police did not do this as part of investigating the crime, but to make sure Wise could cite the location in his "confession."
On the police videotape, Kharey Wise does not implicate himself at first. (The descriptions of the police interrogation are based on an article by Timothy Sullivan in American Lawyer , September 1992.) So the prosecutor tries to shock him, showing him pictures of the jogger lying in her own blood. Wise is driven to tears on seeing the pictures. He then tells a version of events he thinks will satisfy the prosecutor. But he still doesn't give enough to indict himself. So a police detective works on him some more. Among other things, the detective tells him that none of his friends are backing him up--so he needs to "tell the truth." Wise fatefully agrees to give a second statement which directly incriminates himself.
At the end of Wise's statement, the detective asks, "Did anyone make you change your story?" Wise replies, "No. Uh-uh. I thought about it. I thought about all the lies I said. And all the ... all the detectives came in my face, arguing with me, cursing at me, hitting on me. I thought about it.... All I had to do was tell the truth, I probably would have been home."
By the time of this second videotaped statement, Kharey Wise had been under police custody for nearly 48 hours. Under intense grilling, threats, and abuse, this youth had been tricked into believing that all he had to do was tell the cops what they wanted to hear--and he could go home!
The story is similar for all the "confessions" by the youths. Crystal Cuffee, Kevin Richardson's sister, described to ABC's PrimeTime what the police told her about Kevin while he was being interrogated: "That he's a good boy and they know he didn't do anything and that we can take him home." Of course, as soon as the police and prosecutors got the incriminating statements, Kevin and the four other youth were taken straight to jail.
Now it is fully clear that these "confessions" were nothing more than an echo of the version of events put forward by the prosecutors and police. The real rapist, Matias Reyes, came forward in January of this year to confess that he was the one that raped the Central Park jogger--and that he carried out this crime alone. Reyes is currently serving a 33-years-to-life sentence for raping four women and killing a pregnant woman two months after the Central Park incident.
There is solid scientific evidence that shows Reyes is telling the truth about the Central Park rape. The DNA evidence from the crime scene--which did not match any of the five convicted youths-- conclusively matches Reyes's DNA.
Reyes has also described, in accurate detail, how he stalked the jogger--running behind her, picking up a large tree branch to strike her, and then dragging her into the bushes to rape her. This is a sharp contrast with the "confessions" of the five youths which contain numerous inaccuracies about the incident.
In an effort to salvage some credibility, the D.A. now essentially admits that Reyes's version is true. The D.A.'s report to the court sums up: "A self-confessed and convicted serial rapist--who habitually stalked white women in their 20s; who attacked them, and raped them; who always robbed his victims, and frequently stole Walkmans; who tied one of his victims in a fashion much like the Central Park jogger; who lived on 102nd Street; who beat and raped a woman in Central Park two days before the attack on the transverse; whose DNA was the only DNA recovered inside and alongside the victim; whose narrative of events is corroborated in a number of significant ways; who had no connection to the defendants or their cohorts; and who committed all his sex crimes alone--has come forward to say he alone stalked, attacked, beat, raped, and robbed a white woman in her 20s, who was set upon on the 102nd Street transverse, was missing her Walkman, and was left tied in a way that has never before been explained."
The D.A. comments that if this evidence had been available at the time of the trial of the youths, "the defendants' attorneys would have had an arguably compelling alternative" to the version of events put forward by the prosecution. No shit!
This admission comes 13 years too late for the five youths and their families. All five of the youth have already served out their sentences. Kharey Wise was finally let out of prison in August of this year. Only Raymond Santana remains in jail for an unrelated drug charge.
Most of the youth have come through this still standing, but it has been extremely hard for them. Kevin Richardson told the Village Voice,"It seems like every time they show us in the press, it's the confession tapes, that's it. Sometimes even if that's not what the article's about, they'll show that."
Kharey Wise told PrimeTime,"Being deprived of life, it crippled me." And Antron McCray's mother, Linda McCray, said, "I'm sorry for what happened to this woman. But I'm sorry for my son what happened to seven years of his life."
Yusuf Salaam said, "What would be justice now would be for the D.A.'s office to come out and say `we actually did these guys a great injustice.' "
"This case became a signal event in the criminalization of a whole generation. Years of the lives of these five men were stolen in a frenzied atmosphere that evoked the 400 year legacy of mob lynchings and Klan-style terror."
From the October 2002 statement by New York Branch of the RCP
The Central Park jogger case--now exposed as being built on lies and fabrications by the police and prosecutors--touched off a national campaign of slander that branded a whole generation of oppressed youth as potential "wolf packs," guilty solely because of who they were and what they looked like. Black and Latino youth were portrayed as if they were the sole source and perpetrators of violence against women.
And it was clear that those in power were not pursuing this campaign in the interests of preventing violence against women. There are over 200 rapes a day in this country--but this rarely seems to bother the ruling class politicians or media. As the October 2002 statement by the New York Branch of the RCP pointed out, "[The power structure] took the opportunity to send a chilling message to independent women, by casting blame on the victim herself as well. `What was she doing in the park?' they asked. Didn't she know that a woman shouldn't be on the street after dark? Didn't she in some way `ask for it'? The fact that most rapists are known to the victim, and the fact that women are at greater risk of physical injury at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands than out on the street--these facts were nowhere in the public discussion of the root causes of this brutal crime and rape in general."
There are some important lessons to learn from the Central Park case--about the deeply unjust nature of this system's police, courts, and the whole "criminal justice" setup.
One New Yorker, a professor at Hunter College, described her reaction to the revelations about the Central Park case: "It's aroused my cynicism. We've been through a year of idolatrizing our cops and firemen. I would call this the illusion ruptured."\
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)