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Aurora University Screens “The Central Park Five”

Written By: Tyler Siebert

On Wednesday, November 1st Aurora University screened “The Central Park Five” in Tapper Recital Hall.

“The Central Park Five” is a crime documentary about the Central Park jogger case in the 1980’s. The documentary is directed by Ken Burns with the help from his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband, David McMahon. The Central Park jogger case is a story about jogger, Trisha Meili, who was violently assaulted and raped on the night of April 19, 1989. The assault left Trisha in a coma for 12 days and left five men wrongly accused of the crime.

On the night of April 19th, 1989 multiple perpetrators committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies in the northernmost part of Manhattan’s Central Park. The attacks were considered one of the most publicized crimes in the 1980s, most notable was Trisha Meili’s assault. The prosecution and aftermath led to many questions about race and law enforcement’s rush to judgment, and tactics used for interrogation.

On that night around 1:30 A.M. Trisha Meili was found naked and tied up. She had five stab wounds and was suffering from severe hypothermia. She was assaulted and raped by a gang. Her attack left her in a coma for 12 days and six months in rehab.

NYPD responded to calls about assaults happening in Central Park. They arrested five teenage suspects. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise were the five suspects apprehended that night. The five were minorities and weren’t of Caucasian decent. All five confessed to a number of attacks committed in the park that night. None of the five said they actually raped Trisha, but each did confess to being an accomplice. The five of them spent six to thirteen years in jail for their involvement.

It wasn’t until eleven years after, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, who was already serving a life sentence, confessed to the rape of Trisha Meili. He confessed and said he had acted alone. Reyes’ confession, along with DNA evidence, confirmed that he was the one who had raped and almost killed Ms. Meili. With the rise of this new information, the five were vacated of the convictions. All but one of them had served their complete sentences by this time. They were all removed from New York State’s sex offender list. They each were given $7.1 million from the state of New York, for their time served in jail.

All five of the defendants claimed they were forced to confess to the crimes. They all complained about being intimidated and coerced into making false confessions. Salaam said, “I would hear them beating up Korey in the room next to me. It scared me and the fear made me feel like I was not going to be able to make it out.” Their confessions were taped, but the interrogations that led to the confessions were not.
Aurora University Senior, Mauro Castro said, “I didn’t have much prior knowledge of this event before tonight. But I think that it’s a very important case that people should be familiar with. It had a great impact on how the media covers racism and the flaws in our justice system.”

This led to some serious questions about our justice system. Unlawful practices by police that mistreated the teenage boys while in custody, which lead to their confessions to a crime they didn’t do. Simply racial discrimination from cops and racism portrayed in the media played a big role in this case. Without having any concrete evidence, they rushed to judgment and wrongly convicted five men.

Sarah Burns did a undergraduate thesis paper on racism in the media coverage of the event. This led to Ken Burns making this documentary to shine the light on the racial discrimination against the five men that led to their convictions.

This is a great documentary that raised many questions about how our justice system works. With the racial tensions we still have in our society today, it raises the question whether or not racism still plays a big part in our justice system.