The case of the Central Park Jogger may be 20-years-old for some, but it is as new as this morning for Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana the young men who were convicted of raping Trisha Meili known as the Central Park Jogger, in April 19, 1989. The convictions were based upon confessions extracted from these 14-16-year-olds, after 28 hours of enhanced interrogation by seasoned and “scripted” homicide detectives. (See Attorneys Michael Warren and Roger Wareham, page 2.)
In December of 2002, attorneys Michael Warren and Roger Warham filed a motion to vacate the convictions based on a confession from Matias Reyes a convicted serial rapist and murderer and a DNA match between Reyes and semen found on Ms. Meili. The motion was affirmed and the boys, now men, are “free.”
“This is the 20th Anniversary of that event,” said Councilman Charles Barron at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Standing with him were Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and his mother, Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam, Attorneys Alton Maddox and Colin Moore. The councilman will be introducing legislation to provide compensation for the five men who were imprisoned for up to 13 years based on what attorney Colin Moore characterized as “abuses” in the District Attorney’s office. “They have been robbed of their youth, robbed of the opportunity to develop their lives so they could have good jobs, good homes,” Barron continued. “They don’t that opportunity because of the terrorist-like tactics of the police department, to get underage minors, interrogate them for 28-hours to force confessions out of them even after they so-called ‘confessed’ they knew what the boys was saying wasn’t consistent with what happened and they prosecuted them anyway.”
The councilman said that over 22 states have exoneration laws “that say if you have been unjustly convicted and you’re exonerated, that they state will pay. It’s time for New York to catch up.”
The reporting of the case has been called a media frenzy with terms like “wolf pack” and “wilding” being used in the media at the time. Dr. James Macintosh of CEMOTAP (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People) said “The city must pay reparations. The New York Post, Daily News, New York Times also must pay reparations. The New York Post called them a rolling mass of pus. Gerald Nachman called them a melanoma. That’s a black tumor, making a racial allusion. They didn’t need courts to lynch them, so you don’t need courts to repair them. Media lynchers need to ante up.”
The icon for this lynch mob attitude was Donald Trump who was singled out for special mention. “And as for Donald Trump,” said Barron, “You’re the one who put out a big ad calling for a return of the death penalty and that these boys should be executed. You should put out another ad that says ‘I was a fool and made a mistake. If the city does not compensate them I will.” However, because such an action would call for both humility and grace, not two of Mr. Trump’s known strong suits, this was probably a rhetorical suggestion.
Attorney Alton Maddox spoke to the systemic nature of the legal assault on the boys. “20 years ago there was a tragedy in this city that we will never repay. Young men under the age of 16 were in a situation where they could not defend themselves. There were four Black lawyers who came forward in this case. All four of them, after they came forward were disciplined by various grievance committees. Three of them have been disbarred, and the other one was suspended for a substantial period of times.”
Speaking of the defendants he says, “They have to be compensated. We cannot ask people who have been crucified to resurrect themselves on their own. We don’t expect any of them to be Jesus.”
With this being an election year and with Robert Morgenthau not running there is a wide open race for New York District Attorney. And Maddox promises that “Whoever the next D.A. is, he’s going to have to come through the Black community. We want to know where he stands on compensation for the Central Park 6. Nobody will become the next District Attorney of this County without us.”
A Personal Tragedy
Sharon Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam. “My son still struggles with this situation. Recently there was an article about the case in the Daily News. They went back years to find a picture of my son and over that picture it said ‘Matias Reyes, convicted rapist.’ When is justice going to happen for my son? We cannot go forward without some kind of justice. My son needs a chance to live his life as a decent human being because that’s what he is. If we are denied justice at every avenue, when will justice prevail, not only for us but for all the others?”
Mrs. Wise: “You took something dear and precious away from me. At the time I was five and a half months pregnant, and Kharey was sixteen, turning 17 and you just took him. My son went to jail at sixteen and came out at 30. How can he get an apartment to live in? You say he can’t live with me because I was receiving Section 8, so you gave him nothing. Today he has no house to live in. He’s going from place to place. You gave him no job. You wouldn’t even give him therapy. What you took from me and what you sent back is not the same.”
Raymond Santana: “I lost seven years of my life. I lost my childhood. I lost my mother, she died of cancer while I was in prison. I lost talents, I used to draw. I used to play basketball. I lost all of that. Now I’m just a man in this world trying to survive day-to-day. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else’s kid. It’s our duty to make sure others don’t go through this. To be swallowed up and pushed to the side as though we were nothing.”
Colin Moore, attorney for Kharey Wise, said, “we’re not here seeking justice, justice has already spoken. These young men are innocent. District Attorney Morgenthau had to admit he made a mistake. And he made a motion to invalidate the conviction of these young men. But what we want is a special commission appointed to look into the abuses of the District Attorney’s office in this case. This was the first case in which it became clear that you can actually force young men to convict themselves. There is overwhelming evidence if you apply the correct pressure you can get people to convict themselves. It is obvious from the transcripts that the District Attorney knew or should have known that the confessions were inconsistent with the evidence.”
Councilman Barron will shortly be making a motionto the City Council for compensation for these young men.