Meili running into the park, 19 April 1989

The Central Park jogger case was a criminal case that involved the assault and rape of jogger Trisha Meili in Manhattan's Central Park on 19 April 1989. The NYPD arrested five juvenile males (Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, and Antron McCray were African-American; Raymond Santana was Hispanic) on the suspicion that they were members of a 30-man "rape gang" who raped Meili and attacked other joggers and bicyclists. Salaam, Richardson, McCray, and Santana were at the park that same night, but had only been there to play basketball or investigate a "wildin'" party; Wise chose to accompany Salaam to the police station at Detective John Taglioni's invitation, only to be interrogated and treated as a suspect (despite not being on the suspect list). Prosecutor Linda Fairstein blamed the boys for the rape, believing that someone needed to face justice for the rape, and she replaced the easy-going prosecutor Nancy Ryan with the experienced prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer and had the case handed to the infamous "law-and-order" judge Thomas B. Galligan's court. The boys - none of whom were involved in the rape - were coerced into making incriminating statements against other boys (without having met them), with the detectives (including John Hartigan) suggesting other boys' names and actions, and the boys agreeing. Ultimately, the boys were also forced to place themselves at the scene of the crime and to describe what they did, and, when corroborated, the boys' statements were wildly conflicting.

When the case was tried in 1990, the boys were represented by divorce attorney Bobby Burns (for Salaam), activist Colin Moore (for Wise), aspiring politician Peter M. Rivera (for Santana), Howard Diller (for Richardson), and pro bono lawyer Mickey Joseph (for McCray), and both sides agreed to two separate trials; the prosecution wanted to ensure that their conflicting statements were separated, while the defense wanted to prevent the jury from seeing them as a wolfpack. However, by this time, the case had already drawn nationwide attention. Businessman Donald Trump called on New York to reimplement the death penalty to punish the boys, turning public opinion against the boys, who were called "animals", "savages", and other dog-whistle racist epithets by the media (especially the New York Post, which pointed out that the victim was white), Trump, and Fairstein. On the other side, black rights leaders such as Al Sharpton, Elombe Brath, and Helene Nomsa Brath led demonstrations in favor of the boys, and the Braths accused the white media of betraying the boys and turning a blind eye to them. 

In the trial, the defense attorneys pointed out that there were no traces of the boys' DNA or any other form of physical evidence at the scene of the crime. One of the victims of the attack, John Loughlin, said that none of the boys in the court were among the lineup which he identified as the men who had attacked him. In addition, Michael Sheehan testified that the boys had placed the rape in the wrong part of Central Park, proving that their videos were insincere and that their testimonies were made-up. In addition, Meili was brought in as one of Lederer's witnesses, but she was unable to recall the day's events. However, Lederer was able to use Bobby McCray's testimony that the jury could trust his son Antron's words as meaning that Antron's filmed testimony was also true; she used Kory Wise's truancy against him, and she also used traces of semen, grass, and dirt in Richardson's underwear to have the jury believe that he was at the scene of the crime. Ultimately, the court found the boys guilty and sentenced them to 5-10 years in prison; in Wise's case, he was charged as an adult and sentenced to 15 years. The defendants spent between 6 and 13 years in prison, and, in 2002, the convictions were vacated after the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, confessed his guilt after seeing Wise in prison with him. In 2014, the state of New York paid $41 million in restitution, divided among the boys based on how long they spent in prison. The case was one of the most high-profile court cases in US history, and it exacerbated racial tensions due to the racial profiling of five minority children by the police.

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