The Central Park jogger case concerned the assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili, a female jogger, and attacks on others in New York City's Central Park, on April 19, 1989. The attack on the female jogger left her in a coma for 12 days. Meili was a 28-year-old investment banker at the time. The attacks were, according to The New York Times, "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s."[2]

Five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were tried, variously, for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder. They were convicted of most charges by juries in two separate trials in 1990, and received sentences ranging from five to 15 years. Four of the convictions were appealed; they were affirmed by appellate courts. The defendants spent between six and 13 years in prison.

In 2002, Matias Reyes, a Hispanic male who had been a juvenile at the time of the attack, confessed to raping the jogger, and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in Meili's rape. He also said he committed the rape alone. Reyes at the time of his confession was a convicted serial rapist and murderer, serving a life sentence. He was not prosecuted for raping Meili, because the statute of limitations had passed by the time Reyes confessed. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau suggested to the court that their convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili and the attacks on others to which they had confessed be vacated (a legal position in which the parties are treated as though no trial has taken place) and withdrew the charges. Their convictions were vacated in 2002.

The five who had been convicted sued New York City in 2003 for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused to settle the suits for a decade under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because the city's lawyers felt they would win. However, after Bill de Blasio became mayor and supported the settlement, the city settled the case for $41 million in 2014. As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.


The victim, then 28-year-old Trisha Ellen Meili, lived on East 83rd Street between York Avenue and East End Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the time of the attack she was a vice president in the corporate finance department and energy group of the Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] At the time of the attack, she weighed less than 100 pounds (45 kg).[10]

Meili was born in Paramus, New Jersey, and raised in affluent Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh.[11] She is the daughter and youngest of three children of John, a Westinghouse senior manager, and Jean Meili, a school board member.[3][4][10][12] She attended Upper St. Clair High School, graduating in 1978.[4]

Meili was a Phi Beta Kappa economics major at Wellesley College, where she received a B.A. in 1982.[3][11] The Chairman of Wellesley's Economics Department said: "She was brilliant, probably one of the top four or five students of the decade."[2] In 1986, she earned an M.A. from Yale, and an M.B.A. in Finance from the Yale School of Management.[4] She worked from the summer of 1986 on through the time of the attack as an associate and then a vice president in the corporate finance department and energy group of Salomon Brothers.[3][4][5][9][13]

Meili was referred to in most media accounts of the incident at the time simply as the "Central Park Jogger". However, two local TV stations released her name in the days immediately following the attack, and two newspapers aimed at the African-American community, The City Sun and the Amsterdam News, and black-owned talk radio station WLIB continued to do so as the case progressed.[14][15][16]

In April 2003, Meili confirmed her identity to the media, published a memoir entitled I Am the Central Park Jogger, and began a career as an inspirational speaker.[17] She also works with victims of sexual assault and brain injury in the Mount Sinai sexual assault and violence intervention program.[18] She continues to manifest some physiological after-effects of the assault, including memory loss.[4][19][20]


Between 9 and 10 pm on the night of April 19, 1989, approximately 30 teenage perpetrators committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies in the northernmost part of New York City's Central Park.[21][22] The attacks on Meili and on others in the park that night were, according to The New York Times, "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s."[2]

Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, went for a run on her usual path in Central Park shortly before 9 pm.[22][23][24] While jogging in the park, she was knocked down, dragged or chased nearly 300 feet (91 m), and violently assaulted.[9] She was raped, sodomized, and beaten almost to death.[25]

She was found naked, gagged, and tied up, covered in mud and blood, about four hours later, at 1:30 am. Meili was discovered in a shallow ravine in a wooded area of the park about 300 feet (91 m) north of the 103rd Street Transverse.[9][24][25][26][27] The first policeman who saw her said: "She was beaten as badly as anybody I've ever seen beaten. She looked like she was tortured."[5]

She was comatose for 12 days.[28] She suffered from severe hypothermia, severe brain damage, Class 4 (the most severe) hemorrhagic shock, and loss of 75–80 per cent of her blood from five deep stab wounds and a gash on one of her thighs, and internal bleeding.[4][20][27][28][29] Her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was removed from the eye socket, which in turn was fractured in 21 places, and she suffered as well from facial fractures.[4][20][30]

The initial medical prognosis was that Meili would die.[4] She was given last rites.[20] The police initially listed the attack as a probable homicide.[31] At best, doctors thought that she would remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries. She came out of her coma 12 days after her attack, and spent seven weeks in Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem. When she emerged from her coma, she was initially unable to talk, read, or walk.[20][25]

She was transferred in early June to Gaylord Hospital, a long-term acute care center in Wallingford, Connecticut, where she spent six months.[4][18][28] She was first able to walk again in mid-July.[19] She returned to work eight months after the attack.[32] Remarkably, she largely recovered, with some lingering disabilities related to balance and loss of vision. As a result of the severe trauma, she had no memory of the attack or of any events up to an hour before the assault, nor of the six weeks following the attack.[19]

The crime was unique in the level of public outrage it provoked. New York Governor Mario Cuomo told the New York Post: "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."[15]

Arrests, interrogations, and confessions

According to a police investigation, the main suspects were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as "wilding." New York City detectives said the term was used by the suspects themselves to describe their actions to police. This account has been disputed by some journalists, who say that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from rapper Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing".[34]

April 19 was a night when such a series of gang attacks occurred. A group of over 30 teenagers, including the suspects, who lived in East Harlem entered Central Park at an entrance in Harlem, near Central Park North, at approximately 9 pm.[9]

The teenagers attacked and beat people as they moved south, on Central Park's East Drive, and on the park's 97th Street Transverse, between 9 pm and 10 pm.[9] Between 105th and 102nd Streets they attacked several bicyclists, hurled rocks at a cab, and attacked a man who was walking whom they knocked to the ground, assaulted, robbed, and left unconscious.[9][24] A schoolteacher out for a run was severely beaten and kicked, between 9:40 and 9:50.[9] Then, at the 97th Street Transverse at the northwest end of the Central Park Reservoir running track, at about 10 pm they attacked another jogger, hitting him in the back of the head with a pipe and stick.[9][35] They pummeled two men into unconsciousness, hitting them with a metal pipe, stones, and punches, and kicking them in the head.[24][30] A police officer testified that one male jogger, who said he had been jumped by four or five black youths, was bleeding so badly he "looked like he was dunked in a bucket of blood."[36]

Responding police scooters and unmarked cars, dispatched at 9:30 pm, apprehended Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson along with other teenagers at approximately 10:15 on Central Park West and 102nd Street.[9][24][35] Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise were brought in for questioning later, after having been identified by other youths as participants in or present at some of the attacks.[24][35]

Contrary to normal police procedure, which stipulates that the names of suspects under the age of sixteen are to be withheld, the names of the arrested juveniles were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted, including one 14-year-old who was ultimately not charged.[15] The media's decision to print the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects while withholding Meili's identity was cited by the editors of the City Sun and the Amsterdam News to explain their own continued use of Meili's name in their coverage of the story.

The five juveniles were interviewed for hours. With a parent or guardian of theirs present, Santana, McCray, and Richardson all made video statements.[37] Wise made a number of statements, on his own, in accordance with the law.[37] Salaam told the police he was 16 years old and showed them identification to prove it, which permitted the police to question him without a parent.[37] After Salaam's mother arrived the police stopped the questioning, but Salaam's admissions were admitted into testimony.[37] In addition, before the raped jogger was even found, one of the other boys the police had rounded up, sitting in the back of a police car, blurted that he "didn't do the murder," but that he knew who did ... Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson who was sitting beside him agreed, saying "Antron did it".[37] Later, after Raymond Santana was interrogated about the rape and while he was being driven to another precinct, he on his own exclaimed: "I had nothing to do with the rape. All I did was feel her tits."[37]

All five confessed to a number of the attacks committed in the park that night, and implicated one or more of the others.[24][37] None of the five said they themselves actually raped the jogger, but each confessed to being an accomplice to the rape.[24] All five said that they themselves had only helped restrain the jogger, or touched her, while one or more others raped her.[37] Antron McCray said that a "Puerto Rican kid with a hoodie" had been the one who raped the jogger.[24] While he was incarcerated in the Rikers Island jail, Korey Wise told the older sister of a friend of his, according to her testimony, that he'd only held the jogger down.[37]

Yusef Salaam made verbal admissions, but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. Salaam was, however, implicated by all of the other four, and convicted.

Six others were charged with committing crimes in the park that night as well. They pleaded guilty, and received sentences of six months to four and a half years.[24]

Salaam's supporters and attorneys charged on appeal that he had been held by police without access to parents or guardians, but as the majority appellate court decision noted, that was because Salaam had initially lied to police in claiming to be 16, and had backed up his claim with a transit pass that indeed (falsely, as it turned out) indicated that he was 16. If a suspect has reached 16 years of age, his parents or guardians no longer have a right to accompany him during police questioning, or to refuse to permit him to answer any questions. When Salaam informed police of his true age, police permitted his mother to be present.

Although the suspects (except Salaam) had confessed on videotape in the presence of a parent or guardian, they retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions.[38] The detectives had indeed used ruses to convince the suspects to confess, with Salaam confessing to having been present only after he was told that fingerprints were found on the victim's clothing. According to Salaam, "I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room," and "they would come and look at me and say: 'You realise you're next.' The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out."[39] While the confessions themselves were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.

Analysis indicated that the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects—and that it had come from a single, as yet unknown person.[38] Since no DNA evidence tied the suspects to the crime, the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the confessions.[15]

One of the suspects' supporters, Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told The New York Times, "The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that's what happened here."[15]

Trials, convictions, sentences, and vacations of sentences

Trials and sentences

In a first trial in August 1990, defendants Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana were acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot in the attacks on the jogger and others in Central Park that night.[24] Salaam and McCray were 15 years old, and Santana 14 years old, at the time of the crime,[34] and they received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles, 5–10 years in a youth correctional facility.[21][40][41] The jury, consisting of four whites, four blacks, four Hispanics, and an Asian, deliberated for ten days before rendering its verdict.[6]

The second trial ended in December 1990.[24] Kevin Richardson, 14 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery in the attacks on the joggers and others in the park, and sentenced to 5–10 years. Korey Wise, 16 years old at the time of the crime, was acquitted of those charges, but convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot in the attack on the jogger and others in the park, and sentenced to 5–15 years.[24] After the verdict, Wise shouted at the prosecutor: "You’re going to pay for this. Jesus is going to get you. You made this up."[43]

The jogger, who took the stand, said: "I'll tell you what—I didn't feel wonderful about the boys' defense attorneys, especially the one who cross-examined me. He was right in front of my face and, in essence, calling me a slut by asking questions like 'When's the last time you had sex with your boyfriend?'"[19] Wise's lawyer had also asked her whether she had been assaulted by men in her life, suggested that a man she knew may have attacked her, and implied her injuries were not as severe as they had been made out to be.[6]

Jurors interviewed after the trial said that they were not convinced by the confessions, but were impressed by the physical evidence introduced by the prosecutors: semen, grass, dirt, and two hairs "consistent with" the victim's hair[21]:6 recovered from Richardson's underpants.[45] Richardson received a sentence of 5–10 years, and Wise, who had been tried as an adult, a sentence of 5–15 years. Four of the convictions were affirmed on appeal, while Santana did not appeal.[21][24] The five defendants spent between six and thirteen years in prison.[46]

The case attracted nationwide attention and was the subject of many articles and books, both during the trials and after the convictions.[6]

Convictions vacated

In 2001, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, already serving a life sentence for other crimes, but not, at that point, associated by the police with the attack on Meili, met Wise in an upstate New York prison, the Auburn Correctional Facility.[37][47] Subsequently, Reyes declared in 2002 that he had assaulted and raped the jogger that night, when he was 17. He said that he had acted alone.[6][49] At the time of the attack, he was working at an East Harlem bodega on Third Avenue and 102nd Street, and living in a van on the street.[49][6] He provided a detailed account of the attack, details of which were corroborated by other evidence.[21] The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the rape, identifying him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people".[21] DNA analysis of the strands of hair found in Richardson's underpants established that the hair did not belong to the victim.[7] The victim had been tied up with her T-shirt in a distinctive fashion that Reyes used again on later victims.[21] Reyes was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed, and thus his admissions did not place him at further risk.[37][7] Reyes had been convicted of raping four other women and killing one of them, and a defense psychiatrist in his trial had concluded that Reyes was not capable of telling the truth.[37] Reyes's confession, plus DNA evidence confirming his participation in the rape, led the district attorney's office to recommend vacating the convictions of the defendants originally found guilty and sentenced to prison. Supporters of the five defendants again claimed their confessions had been coerced. An examination of the inconsistencies between their confessions led the prosecutor to question the veracity of their confessions. District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau's office wrote:

A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies. ... The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime—who initiated the attack, who knocked the victim down, who undressed her, who struck her, who held her, who raped her, what weapons were used in the course of the assault, and when in the sequence of events the attack took place. ... In many other respects the defendants' statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence. And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact.[21]

District Attorney Morgenthau withdrew the charges.[53] Based on Reyes' confession, the DNA evidence, and the unreliable nature of the confessions, Morgenthau recommended that the convictions be vacated. In light of the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, the prosecutor recommended that the court vacate not only the convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili, but also the convictions for the other crimes that night to which the defendants had confessed. His rationale was that the defendants' confessions to the other crimes were made at the same time and in the same statements as those related to the attack on Meili. Had the newly discovered evidence been available at the original trials, it might have made the juries question whether any part of the defendants' confessions were trustworthy.[21] Morgenthau's recommendation to vacate the convictions was strongly opposed by Linda Fairstein, who had overseen the original prosecution but had since left the District Attorney's Office.[38] The five defendants' convictions were vacated by New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada on December 19, 2002. As Morgenthau recommended, Tejada's order vacated the convictions for all the crimes of which the defendants had been convicted.[54]

Despite the analysis conducted by the District Attorney's Office, New York City detectives maintained that the defendants had "most likely" been Reyes' accomplices in the assault and rape of Meili.[7] The two doctors who treated her after she was attacked stated that some of her injuries were not consistent with Reyes' claim that he acted alone.[53][7] (Their statements were contradicted at the 1990 trial by a forensic pathologist and by the New York City chief medical examiner in 2002, both of whom concluded it was impossible to tell from the victim's injuries how many people had participated in the assault).[7] Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly complained that Morgenthau's staff had denied his detectives access to "important evidence" needed to conduct a thorough investigation.[54] This claim notwithstanding, no indictments, convictions or disciplinary actions were ever taken against District Attorney's office staff members.

All of the defendants had completed their prison sentences at the time of Tejada's order, which only had the effect of clearing their names. However one defendant, Santana, remained in jail, convicted of a later, unrelated crime, though his attorney said that his sentence in that case had been extended because of his conviction in the Meili attack. All five were removed from New York State's sex offender registry.[54][7][7]

Armstrong Report

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly commissioned a panel of three lawyers in 2002 to review the case.[64] The panel was made up of two prominent lawyers, Michael F. Armstrong, the former chief counsel to the Knapp Commission which had investigated New York City police corruption in the 1970s, and Jules Martin, a New York University Vice President, as well as Stephen Hammerman, deputy police commissioner for legal affairs.[37][64][65][8][8] The panel issued a 43-page report in January 2003.[64]

The panel disputed Reyes's claim that he alone had raped the jogger.[37][64][65] It insisted there was "nothing but his uncorroborated word" that he acted alone.[64] Armstrong said the panel believed "the word of a serial rapist killer is not something to be heavily relied upon."[64]

The report concluded that the five men whose convictions had been vacated had "most likely" participated in the beating and rape of the jogger and that that the "most likely scenario" was that "both the defendants and Reyes assaulted her, perhaps successively."[37][64] The report said Reyes had most likely "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."[37][64]

As to the five defendants, the report said:

"We believe the inconsistencies contained in the various statements were not such as to destroy their reliability. On the other hand, there was a general consistency that ran through the defendants' descriptions of the attack on the female jogger: she was knocked down on the road, dragged into the woods, hit and molested by several defendants, sexually abused by some while others held her arms and legs, and left semiconscious in a state of undress."[64][65]

"It seems impossible to say that they weren't there at all, because they knew too much," Armstrong said in an interview.[8]

Lawsuits against city and state by men whose convictions were vacated

In 2003, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray sued the city for $250 million for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress.[8] The city refused for a decade to settle the suits, saying that "the confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials" established probable cause.[8] New York City lawyers under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt they would win the case.[46]

While running for mayor of New York City in 2013, Bill de Blasio pledged to settle the case if he were to win.[8] Filmmaker Ken Burns said in a November 2013 interview that Mayor–elect de Blasio had agreed to settle the lawsuit.[8]

A settlement in the case for $41 million, supported by Mayor De Blasio, was approved by a federal judge on September 5, 2014.[8] Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson will each receive $7.1 million from the city for their years in prison, while Wise will receive $12.2 million. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.[8] The settlement averaged roughly $1 million for each year of imprisonment for the men.[75]

As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims, before Judge Alan Marin.[46] Speaking of the second suit, against the state, Santana said: "When you have a person who has been exonerated of a crime, the city provides no services to transition him back to society. The only thing left is something like this — so you can receive some type of money so you can survive."[46]

On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump took out full-page advertisements in all four major New York newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty. Trump said he wanted the criminals of every age who were accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park 12 days earlier to be afraid.[76] The advertisement, which cost an estimated $85,000[76] said, in part, "Mayor [Ed] Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!" [77]

Lawyers for the five defendants said the letter had inflamed public opinion. After Reyes confessed to the crime and said he acted alone, one of the defendants' lawyers, Michael W. Warren, said, "I think Donald Trump at the very least owes a real apology to this community and to the young men and their families."[76] Protests were held outside Trump Tower in October 2002 with protestors chanting, "Trump is a chump!"[76] Trump was unapologetic at the time, saying, "I don't mind if they picket. I like pickets."[76]

In June 2014, after the City announced a settlement of more than $40 million in the civil suit brought by the five defendants, Trump penned an editorial for the New York Daily News in which he called the settlement "a disgrace" and insisted that the group's guilt was still likely: "Settling doesn't mean innocence. ... Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels."[78]

According to Yusef Salaam, Trump "was the fire starter", as "common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing that we were guilty." Salaam and his family received death threats after papers ran Trump's full-page ad. Warren argued that Trump's advertisements played a role in securing conviction, saying that "he poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim," and that "notwithstanding the jurors' assertions that they could be fair and impartial, some of them or their families, who naturally have influence, had to be affected by the inflammatory rhetoric in the ads." According to The Guardian, the case and the media attention reflected the perceived racial dynamics at the time; a similar case involving a black woman, raped the same day in Brooklyn and thrown from the roof of a four-story building, received little media attention.[39]

Documentary film

The daughter of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon premiered The Central Park Five, a documentary film about the case, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012.[79][80] It was inspired by Sarah Burns' undergraduate thesis on racism in media coverage of the event.[81] Sarah Burns had worked for a summer as a paralegal in the office of one of the lawyers handling a lawsuit on behalf of those convicted of assaulting and raping the jogger.[79]

Ken Burns, who has compared the case to that of the Scottsboro Boys,[82] said he hoped the film would push the city to settle the case against it.[47]

On September 12, 2012, attorneys for New York City subpoenaed the production company for access to the original footage in connection with its defense of the federal lawsuit brought by some of the convicted youths against the city. Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, justified the subpoena on the grounds that the film had "crossed the line from journalism to advocacy" for the wrongly convicted men. In February 2013, U.S. Judge Ronald L. Ellis quashed the city's subpoena.[83]