Donald Trump came under fire after saying that the “Central Park Five,” a group of black men that were convicted — and then cleared of attacking and raping a woman in 1989, were guilty in a CNN interview. “They admitted they were guilty,” he said. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”Several of the wrongfully accused have also demanded that Trump apologize in recent days. Trump’s remarks drew criticism for publicly condemning people who were exonerated by the court, but he’s not the only one who wasn’t convinced by the evidence that cleared them.
On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old white woman was assaulted and raped in New York City’s Central Park. A number of suspects were accused of a variety of offenses against numerous victims in the park that night. There were no witnesses to the attack, and the woman had no memory of what happened. She was found in the park unconscious, bleeding, gagged, and naked, in the middle of the night. Five teenagers were arrested and convicted based largely on their confessions, where they implicated each other. They were also convicted of attacking other people in the park that night.
Two weeks after the rape, Trump took out full-page ads in four New York area newspapers saying, “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” The case was widely talked about, and one of the Five, Yusef Salaam, told CNN that Trump had a lot to do with it. “He was literally like the fire starter. He lit the match,” Salaam said in a recent interview. Salaam served his full prison sentence of almost seven years before he was later cleared.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and killer, confessed to the attack, saying he acted alone. DNA evidence — still new at the time of the initial trial — confirmed Reyes’ involvement. A court ruled that the confessions of the Central Park Five had been coerced, and that they had nothing to do with the incident. All five were exonerated. In 2003, they sued the city, and eventually received a $41 million settlement in 2014.
Still, Trump has insisted that the Central Park Five were not innocent on the night in question.
evidence of Trump’s casual racism has been around for years pic.twitter.com/xSDd0Qx7ir
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) October 7, 2016
The Presidential candidate is getting flack for this, since the case appears to be settled, and the Central Park Five were cleared of any wrongdoing.
However, Trump isn’t the only one who wasn’t entirely convinced that Reyes acted alone. A panel of three attorneys commissioned by the NYPD in 2003 believed that the Central Park Five were most likely involved in the attack, just not the rape. “Our examination of the facts leads us to suggest that there is an alternative theory of the attack upon the jogger, that both the defendants and Reyes assaulted her, perhaps successively,” the lawyers wrote in their report, according to a New York Times article. They described their theory, saying that the Central Park Five attacked the woman first, and that “Mr. Reyes, drawn by her screams, either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants had moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death.”
The panel felt that there was no foul play when police took the confessions of the five men, who were all teens at the time. Reyes’ version of events, that he acted alone, was only supported by “his uncorroborated word,” they said. The panel also mentioned that after they had already been convicted, some of the Five reiterated their confessions during parole hearings.
Robert Morgenthau, who was Manhattan District Attorney at the time, said that a reconstruction of the night’s events showed that the Central Park Five were in a different area of the park at the time of the rape, attacking other victims. The convictions for the other attacks were also reversed, as Judge Charles Tejada said that information regarding the rape likely clouded the jury’s perception when they ruled. Meanwhile, Matias was never convicted for the crime because the statute of limitations had run out by the time he confessed. He is, however, currently serving a lengthy sentence for other offenses.
The NYPD panel’s theory of what happened that night clearly has not convinced everyone, as the public opinion has sided with the court’s decision. Trump, however, is sticking to his original story.
A version of this article was first published on October 7, 2015.
[Image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.