It was a brutal rape that could have killed the survivor, leaving her with long-lasting injuries and resulting in the wrongful convictions of five boys. It took years and years for the real rapist to come forward and, in a sad turn of justice, he has never technically been convicted of the crime.
Trish Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, went for an evening jog in Central Park on April 19, 1989.
While running with headphones in, she was hit in the back of the head with a tree branch according to "The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One Of New York City's Most Infamous Crimes,” a book written in 2011 by Sarah Burns.
Bleeding from the head, she was then dragged off the jogging road and into the woods where she was brutally raped, beaten with a rock, tied up with her own shirt and left for dead.
After two people found Meili, she survived but not without serious injuries. She suffered several skull fractures and deep lacerations and was in a coma for about a week. When she woke up, she had no recollection of what happened to her or who did it to her.
Investigators focused on a large group of African American boys who just 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 the new Netflix miniseries "When They See Us" which depicts the case 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. Some DNA found at the crime scene did not match any of theirs but it did match the man who would later confess to raping her.
The boys, who came to be known as the highly publicized “Central Park 5,” were all sentenced to between seven and 13 years in prison for the attack but all five were exonerated in 2002 after the real rapist came forward.
Matias Reyes was serving a life sentence for raping three women near Central Park, in addition to raping and killing a pregnant woman, when he acknowledged to also being behind the rape of Meili.
“I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime. I’ve asked myself that question," Reyes, known as the "East Side Rapist," said in prison audio released and obtained by the New York Daily News.
He said he found Jesus behind bars.
“I struck her from behind, back of the head,” he said in his recollection of events. “She fell down. After she fell down, I dragged her to the bushes. I violated her – raped her. And after I’m finished she’s struggling. I beat her with a rock … I went off. I hit her a lot of times. I heard bones crushing.”
He was arrested the same year of the sexual assault, but not for that specific rape. He was arrested in the midst of a violent crime spree. In August, four months after the rape of Meili, he raped a woman in her Upper East Side apartment. She fled and as she ran to the lobby, the building’s super was able to grab him and hold him down, according to a profile on Reyes by the New York Daily News.
He pleaded guilty to raping her and two other women in addition to raping and killing a fourth. Reyes admitted to more though: at least five rapes in total, two attempted rapes and a bunch of muggings. He is now serving 33 years to life in New York State prison. During his 1990 trial, he reportedly attacked his own defense attorney Richard Siracusa who referred to Reyes as "a pure psychopath." He previously assaulted his previous lawyer, according to the New York Daily News report.
Siracusa had reason to call him a psychopath: apparently his victims recalled that after being raped, Reyes would give them the option of either getting their eyes stabbed out or being killed.
During Reyes’ trial, Dr. N. G. Berrill, a psychologist who interviewed him wrote, ''Mr. Reyes has been considered a rather impulsive, angry, volatile individual since he was a young boy,” according to the New York Daily News profile.
He worked at a bodega in East Harlem, and slept in a van, and reportedly claimed to snort a few bags of cocaine a day, back in 1989.
After he confessed to the Central Park Jogger case from behind bars, investigators matched his DNA to the DNA at the crime scene, according to ABC News.
This led to the exonerations of the boys, men at this point, known as the “Central Park 5.” The five were exonerated in 2002. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau withdrew all charges against the boys and their convictions were vacated. Wise, who was still in prison, was released.
However, because of statute of limitations laws, Reyes was never convicted or even charged with the rape of Meili.
In an interview with VLADTV Santana and Salaam, both men said they had no interest whatsoever in meeting with the real rapist behind the crime that stole years of their lives.
“He was known as the East Side Slasher, the East Side Rapist,” Santana said. “He committed about seven to eight rapes that they know about. One was a murder of a pregnant woman. I mean, there’s nothing to talk about with him.”
Reyes, however, did meet Wise behind bars. Wise said he and Reyes had gotten in fight over a TV at Riker's Island when he was first imprisoned.
“Destiny made it his business to come see me,” Wise said on a 2013 panel, High Brow Magazine reported.
Thirteen years later at Auburn Correctional Facility, Wise and Reyes met up again, according to Wise's recollection. He said Reyes apologized for their fight 13 years ago and told him, “I see you’re still maintaining your innocence."
The next day, Wise said Reyes confessed to raping Meili.
Salaam called the fact that he was never convicted another “tragedy of the Central Park jogger case.”
In 2014, the city of New York gave the five wrongly convicted men a $40 million settlement.
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