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The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

2011, Vintage Books

2012, film by Ken Burns, see trailer here:

I was compelled to read this book about the Central Park Jogger Case after watching the 2019 Netflix documentary “When They See Us”.

In her book, Sarah Burns, daughter of filmmaker Ken Burns (Jazz, The Vietnam War, The Civil War, etc.) showed that the defendants, five boys between the ages of 12-16, had been wrongfully convicted for the brutal rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili, attacked while jogging in Central Park on April 19, 1989.

Five of the Black and Latino youths also in the park that night were convicted and sent to prison for 7-12 years, despite a stunning lack of evidence. Years later they were exonerated when the true perpetrator, who had gone on to attack and kill other women before being arrested, confessed.

Sarah Burns set out to discover how this could have happened. Here are a few excerpts from her book (quotes in italics):

Lack of evidence:

The NYPD serologist did not find any blood on the clothing collected from the suspects. Even though Trisha Meili (the jogger) had lost 75 percent of the blood in her body by the time she arrived at the hospital.

Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor on the case, was upset when she learned there was no match from the rape kit testing, but nonetheless didn’t look elsewhere for other suspects.

A DNA test confirmed that the semen found on crime site evidence and on the victim proved there was only one rapist, and it was not one of the 5 suspects. This was a big setback for the prosecution but according to Burns, there was no evidence that anyone considered looking to other suspects or theories of the crime. Despite a prosecutor’s obligation to seek justice, it seems that at that moment, winning the case trumped investigating the evidence…In steadfastly sticking to their initial theory of the case, they ignored the fact that in the summer of 1989 there was a serial rapist on the loose, whose crimes took place near where Trisha Meili had been attacked, and who used strikingly similar methods.

Seven months before the rape of Meili in Central Park, Matias Reyes had threatened and choked a woman near the Park, but fled before raping her. The victim filed a report but no arrest was made. His next known attack happened in April of 1989, also in Central Park. Following details given by the victim, police identified Matias Reyes, but did not question him and the case was closed. Two days later the same Matias Reyes attacked Meili in Central Park. Even though the two attacks occurred near each other, the information gathered by police in the first case was never communicated to the detectives working the Meili case. Nor did anyone connect the fact that Reyes had spoken to a police detective he knew as he strolled out of the park on April 19 wearing Meili’s headphones.”

Over the next two months, Reyes viciously attacked five more women, and was finally caught in August 1989 (but still not linked to the Central Park Jogger case).

Meanwhile, the Central Park Five, as they came to be known, were all sent to prison, where they would remain for 6-7, or for one of the boys, 12 years.

The media reports surrounding the case compared the youths to animals and used other racist language to describe them and the events.

For more information about The Central Park Five:

Watch the mini-series “When They See Us” on Netflix. (trailer)

Read this article where director Ava DuCernay talks about why she created the series:

I’m hoping that people who only know the story through the media will understand it through the lens of those who lived it,” she says. “I’m also hoping that the media will have the takeaway to be more responsible in what they report. Not just to be first but to be factual. I’m hopeful prosecutors will look at themselves and say, Let me not build a career on a lie. Let me do the right thing, and be about justice. And I’m hoping there will be some comfort for all the families involved in actually having their story told.

Korey Wise, Anton McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yussef Salaam

The Central Park Five have been exonerated, but there are many other innocent people in the USA serving time in prison or on death row for crimes they did not commit.

For more information on innocence and the miscarriage of justice:

Read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.


To think about

When Trisha Meili, having miraculously survived the brutal attack in the Park, testified in court, supporters of the defendants called out insults: "whore", "prostitute". The prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer received similar insults.



Letter to Central Park Five:

Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson

c/o Innocence Project

40 Worth Street, Suite 701

New York, NY 10013

June 13, 2019

Dear Korey, Yusef , Antron, Raymond and Kevin,

I’m an American woman living in France and a supporter of the Innocence project. I watched When They See Us as soon as it came out and was very touched by it. I couldn’t think of anything else for many days and only recently have I not thought of you every time I wake up and all day long.

I am very angry and sorry for what happened to you and mystified by mentalities and injustice in our country. I’m glad you were exonerated but sorry that not everyone who should has apologized.

I’m sure that in spite of the exoneration and the civil reward, life is not easy every day. I wish you all the best on that continuing journey. You are not alone, we are all together in life on this planet, and other people like me are thinking of you.

I’ve watched your interviews from 2013 and current interviews. It was very important to be able to see you, the real men behind the story, right after the movie, because your faces replaced the faces of the actors and that’s how it should be.

And real men you are. You are heroes, you never gave in to get out early. Other men and women, boys and girls, can look up to you, not just now, but in the future.

As I watched your interviews this is the sense I had of the men you seem to be:

Korey Man of Light & Justice

Yusef Man of Wisdom

Antron Man of Truth

Raymond Man of Love & Life

Kevin Man of Kindness

Wishing you love & peace,

Letter to Innocence Project:

Innocence Project

40 Worth Street, Suite 701

New York, NY 10013


Re : Request to distribute letters to Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson

Dear Innocence Project,

Enclosed are envelopes with cards and a letter for Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson. Could you please forward them?

I have enclosed a copy of the letter for you.

I would also like to know if Innocence Project has a program for writing letters to prisoners? If so I would be interested in learning about it.

Thank you.


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