On May 31st, 2019, Netflix premiered the first episode of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “When They See Us” — a four-part miniseries that tells the story of the ‘Central Park Five’.
The critically acclaimed work has brought fresh attention to the quintet, who was initially convicted and sentenced for a horrible crime before eventually being exonerated by DNA evidence.
As the Innocence Project notes, the five men were cleared in 2002 after the Supreme Court of New York vacated their convictions and withdrew all of the criminal charges against them.
David Kreizer, an experienced litigation attorney in New York and New Jersey, served, along with co-counsel, as attorney to Korey Wise in the Central Park Five case.
Central Park Five Case: Summary
The Central Park Five involves a real and horrific crime. In the Spring of 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old woman, was jogging in a secluded area of the park. Around 9:30 PM, she was assaulted and raped — suffering severe injuries that left her comatose for nearly two weeks.
As a result of the overwhelming mental and physical trauma she endured, Trisha Meili had no memory of the attack.
The Flimsy Case Against the Central Park Five
In the immediate aftermath of the crime, officers from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) put the focus on six African American and Hispanic American teenagers: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise.
It was these five who allegedly confessed to the crime under pressure from the NYPD.
The supposed “confessions” were the key evidence used against teenagers. However, their DNA did not match the DNA that was obtained at the scene of the crime. Further, the confessions were obtained after hours of interrogation — without the presence of parents or attorneys.
Even more alarming, the supposed confessions fundamentally did not make sense. The young boys consistently contradicted each other’s statements and got key facts about the attack wrong. The confessions were all later withdrawn.
The Wrongful Convictions
Despite the unreliability of the confessions, the overwhelming scientific research that shows that false confessions are common, and the total lack of physical evidence tying any of the boys to the brutal attack, they were convicted of a number of different crimes, including rape and assault in 1991.
In 2001, the case received new attention. Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and convicted murder who was serving life in prison in New York, confessed to the crime.
His DNA was tested and compared to a sample that was recovered near the scene of the brutal attack — it matched. There was also additional evidence that confirmed that Reyes, not the Central Park Five, committed the attack. The convictions were vacated and all criminal charges against the Central Park Five were officially withdrawn.
The Civil Settlement
Following their clear exoneration, the Central Park Five filed a civil lawsuit against the City of New York for, among other things, malicious and wrongful prosecution. For more than a decade, the New York officials refused to settle the claim.
However, in 2014, following the election of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city finally relented and agreed to settle the Civil Rights lawsuit for $41 million with $12.25 million going to David Kreizer’s client, Korey Wise.
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