The "Central Park 5" case was one of the most publicized of the 1980s: five teens were falsely accused and convicted of raping a woman in Central Park and it would take years before they were exonerated.
Now, 30 years later, Ava DuVernay's new four-part Netflix film “When They See Us” has prompted a reexamination of how the teens, mere boys, became victims of a vicious and false narrative that landed them behind bars.
Trisha Meili was a 28-year-old investment banker out for a jog in Central Park on April 19, 1989. She was attacked by a serial rapist, Matias Reyes, but that wouldn’t be proven until years later following his confession from prison. Reyes, who was later convicted of raping multiple other women including a pregnant victim he also killed, hit Meili in the back of the head with a tree branch. He then dragged her off the jogging path and into the woods where he violently raped her, beat her with a rock, tied up with her own shirt and left her for dead.
Investigators chose to focus on a large group of mostly African-American boys who happened to be in the park around the same time of the rape. People had made 911 calls to police that night regarding groups of teens harassing people in the park.
As "When They See Us" shows, investigators honed in on five boys in particular: Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise. They all maintained their innocence and said they were coerced into confessing. The new series depicts the boys as confused, thinking that they could go home if they told police what they wanted to hear. The DNA found at the scene did not match any of theirs. Meili testified twice during the trial, under the identity "the Central Park Jogger,” and stated she didn’t remember the attack.
The boys, who came to be known as the “Central Park 5,” were sentenced to between seven and 13 years in prison for the attack. Their case became highly publicized and sensationalized, so much so that even Donald Trump weighed in on it. The five were exonerated in 2002 after Reyes confessed. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau withdrew all charges against the boys, by then men, and their convictions were vacated. Wise, who was still in prison, was released.
In 2014, the city of New York settled with the five wrongly convicted men for $40 million. Additionally they filed a $52 million lawsuit for extra damages, a suit that is still reportedly ongoing. Three of the members, Salaam, Richardson and Santana were given honorary diplomas from their former high schools in 2017, according to the New York Times.
So where are the “Central Park 5” now and how are they doing individually?
After spending five years behind bars, he is now the father of a teen daughter, according to “When They See Us.” He lives in Georgia but still appears to have strong ties to where he grew up. He founded his own apparel company called Park Madison NYC. Some of the apparel features the names of the “Central Park 5.” Musical artist Nas sports the gear in one of the company’s posts. One of the shirts even features a mugshot of himself. A post of that shirt states, “I created this shirt and called it the ‘Raymond Santana Tribute Tee’ because I wanted to recognize the ups and downs, the road I traveled, to become the man that I am today.”
Santana has pushed for criminal justice reforms in New York, including trying to mandate that all interrogations be recorded, according to AM New York.
After five and a half years behind bars, Richardson is now married and the father of two daughters, whom he lives with in New Jersey. He travels to speak about his experience and advocates for changes in the system, according to the Innocence Project.
“There was such a media frenzy, during that time . . . we were physically scared to come outside,” he recounted during a 2017 talk. He and Salaam talked about wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform at a Fashion Institute of Technology talk the same year.
After six years behind bars, McCray is married and a proud father of six. He lives with his family in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the first of the five to leave New York City, according to "When They See Us."
He has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. However in May, he did an interview with The New York Times, “I’m damaged, you know? I know I need help. But I feel like I’m too old to get help now. I’m 45 years old, so I’m just focused on my kids. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do. I just stay busy. I stay in the gym. I ride my motorcycle. But it eats me up every day. Eats me alive. My wife is trying to get me help but I keep refusing. That’s just where I’m at right now. I don’t know what to do.”
He also told the publication he still struggles with complicated feelings towards his father, Bobby McCray, who testified in 1990 that he instructed his 16-year-old son to confess to a crime he knew he didn’t do.
After spending seven years behind bars, Salaam also now resides in Georgia, where he lives with his wife and 10 children. He does public speaking, focusing on pushing for policy change in the criminal justice system. His website, Yusef Speaks, states that he “has traveled all around the United States and the Caribbean to deliver influential lectures and facilitate insightful conversations as he continues to touch lives and raise important questions about race and class, the failings of our criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and fundamental human rights.”
Salaam is a published poet and has been the recipient of several awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama in 2016 and an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary in 2014.
“Determined to educate the public, Yusef eagerly shares his story with others. In speaking out against injustice, he conveys the importance of continuing one’s education—whether formal or otherwise,” his site states. “He also touches on the effects of incarceration and the disenfranchisement of economically disadvantaged people and its devastating impact on both their families and the community at large.”
Wise was the eldest of the five and appeared to have been given the worst “deal” out of all of them. Because he was 16, he could be interrogated without a guardian present and, as the new Netflix series depicts, he may have been coerced the most. He may have also been particularly vulnerable, despite being the oldest. In Sarah Burns’ 2011 book "The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One Of New York City's Most Infamous Crimes,” she wrote that he "had hearing problems from an early age, and a learning disability that limited his achievement in school." Plus, he wasn’t even a suspect to begin with. He only went down to the station, as the series depicts, to support his friend Salaam. He spent most of his 14 years behind bars in adult facilities, including the infamously rough Rikers Island.
After he was released, Wise changed his first name from Kharey to Korey. He is the only member of the five who chose to stay in New York City. He both established and funded the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law School which offers pro-bono legal counsel to wrongfully convicted people.
"You can forgive, but you won't forget," Wise in the 2012 Central Park Five documentary. "You won't forget what you lost. No money could bring that time back. No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away."
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