In this country we have an atrocious problem of convicting and imprisoning innocent people based on mostly circumstantial evidence and bias. In 1989, on April 19, a young woman named Trisha Meili was brutally assaulted in Central Park. Five teenage boys were originally convicted of the rape, assault, and sodomy of this woman. However, it was later found that they were wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The history behind the issue as well as the fact that it is still a controversial case makes this case incredibly intriguing to anyone who stumbles upon it, as well as maybe providing insight into some ways that it could be solved.
Trisha Meili, a 28 year old investment banker in New York City was brutally assaulted, raped, and sodomized around 9 p.m. in Central Park on April 19, 1989. After she was attacked, she was in a coma for 12 days, with severe brain damage, class 4 hemorrhagic shock, an eye socket so fractured her eye actually came out, and blood loss estimated around 80%. At the time, the case was listed as a likely homicide. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise were apprehended by police and thought to have committed the crimes. They were tried for riot, rape, robbery, sexual abuse, and attempted murder and convicted of most of these crimes by two juries in 1990. Their sentences ranged from 5-15 years, with the average between 6 and 13 years that they actually served. It was found in the early 2000’s that Matias Reyes was guilty and had actually committed serial rapes and never been convicted. It was found that he had raped 4 other girls and possibly killed one. His psychiatrist claims that he was unable to tell the truth. He was unable to be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had already passed. In 2014, the five men that were wrongly convicted pressed charges against the city of New York for various reasons including “emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and racial discrimination”. The case would be heard by Judge Deborah Batts and would be up to her to decide. Despite the fact that the DNA of all five men was tested and it didn’t match, they were still convicted of the crime. The NYPD had a very hard time admitting their wrongdoing. One man feels that the confessions were coerced. The jury was unable to tell a false confession from an actual confession and that is what got these five guys into jail. Only recently was the case settled on after much debate.
This issue is still incredibly controversial. With a growth in the Black Lives Matter movement, we are seeing minorities take a stand against racial discrimination in our legal system. More and more cases with wrongful convictions are coming out, and the five men in this case are not standing for it. I believe that the issue of wrongful convictions especially within minorities is a massive issue with a very negative connotation in today’s society. The fact that these five men, adolescent at the time, were all minorities is what makes this case still relevant today. In 2003, the five men that were wrongly convicted sued New York City for emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and racial discrimination. The mayor at the time was Michael Bloomberg and he refused to settle because he believed that they would win and did not think the city should admit its wrongdoing. Only in 2014, when Bill De Blasio became mayor, was a settlement reached. Since 2014, these men have moved on to pursuing the New York Claims Court for $52 million in damages from the state. It was also just found that our new president Donald Trump paid $80,000 for ads that advocated for the death penalty to be brought back and said that it is “ridiculous that the case was settled with so much evidence against them”, even though the DNA evidence did not incriminate them. Federal District Court Judge Deborah Batts refused to dismiss the case and allowed all proceedings to continue before coming to a conclusion. Whereas this particular case is now closed, we still have a major issue in this country with wrongful convictions, especially those concerning minorities. I believe that this country still has rather deep racial prejudices whether we’d like to admit it or not. Yes, they do try and find a jury that is unbiased, but with the size of this story, it was incredibly hard and it is so hard to find people that are not at least slightly biased by skin color in a case like this. Unfortunately, I do not feel like this particular case has effected enough change in this country pertaining to the issue of wrongful convictions. We still convict many people on circumstantial and not biological evidence. Opponents to this just do not see that minorities are wrongly convicted more than white people.
Currently, this case has been settled, but it was not an easy road to get there. Only in 2014, was a settlement agreement of $40 million reached. This case also came around a time where people wondered how effective NYPD was because it was said that there was a “feeling of lawlessness” in the city. These men have been waiting for the justice that they deserve for over 25 years and only recently got it. Unfortunately, the issue of wrongful convictions especially of minorities is still a huge problem. We still have people of all races, wrongly imprisoned and convicted on mostly circumstantial evidence. I think that we should re-evaluate our interrogation techniques to avoid so any false confessions. I also think that we need to check and re-check evidence and avoid convicting unless the evidence is undisputed. I think we also need to settle and provide for the people whose lives are forever changed because they were wrongly imprisoned. For instance, in the Netflix series, Making a Murderer,which details the true story of Steven Avery, who served 18 years in prison for the wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder, only to be freed in 2003 by DNA evidence. According to an article on Vox, black men are more likely to be wrongfully convicted then white men. This and other cases like this lead me to believe that we often convict with circumstantial evidence and a strong bias towards who we believe is guilty without letting the evidence truly speak for itself.
Central Park Jogger Case.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Apr. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.
Burns, Sarah. “Opinion | Why Trump Doubled Down on the Central Park Five.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.
Staff, TCR, Héctor Silva Ávalos/InSight Crime, and Crime And Justice News. “The Central Park Jogger Case: A Lesson on Wrongful Convictions.” The Crime Report. N.p., 25 May 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.
Weiser, Benjamin. “5 Exonerated in Central Park Jogger Case Agree to Settle Suit for $40 Million.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 June 2014. Web. 02 May 2017.
Making a Murderer.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 May 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.
Zarracina, German Lopez and Javier. “Study: Black People Are 7 times More Likely than White People to Be Wrongly Convicted of Murder.” Vox. Vox, 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.