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Central Park Five
April 26, 2013 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Remember the Central Park jogger case from 1990? Here's a (lengthy, fascinating) New York Magazine article discussing the case just around the time of the 2002 exoneration of the initial five accused, four of whom had previously confessed to the crime. 24 years after the attack, a group of filmmakers, together with the five wrongly convicted men, have created a documentary telling the tale: The Central Park Five. Criminal reform activists everywhere are hoping the story might change a few minds. Previously
posted by likeatoaster (36 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Nation link ("change a few minds") is ringing in its condemnation for the whole sorry affair.
posted by JHarris at 9:02 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I watched the movie the other night -- so sad.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2013


I watched it the other night as well. This whole affair is such a tragedy.
posted by readery at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2013


Second, the convictions resulted from a corrupt process. In a clear breach of ethics, the prosecution directed the police investigation from the moment Meili was found, even questioning the defendants before they were charged and in the absence of counsel. The police, too, broke more rules on collecting evidence and questioning suspects than I can list here: but, most unusual, they also testified to much of it—it’s right there in the court record.

It seems like it's always like this with high-profile cases -- the police and DA's office are either so afraid of the politics or so intoxicated by the limelight that they start breaking rules from the word go. This was the first thing I thought of when we instantly started hearing that they might not read Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. I'm thinking "you fuckers, these are the cases where we test our principles, not throw them out."
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:19 AM on April 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


just the other day i was discussing the death penalty with someone. he said that he thinks if they confess and we are absolutely sure they did it, then sure, go ahead and execute them. i said that while i too would like to see people who are utterly depraved wiped off the face of the earth, someone confessing does not necessarily mean they did it, that there are lots of coerced confessions because unfortunately cops and lawyers are people too and they make mistakes.

so while it would be great to not have to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of people like jeffrey dahmer or the men from that home invasion in the northeast that i can't recall the details of right now, we don't execute them precisely because of cases like this.

i heard a lawyer say on our local PBS station the other day something to the effect of "you don't want people to know about your case and to get media attention. you want to stay under the radar because once it becomes a media frenzy, then the prosecutor, the judge, the attorney general - whoever was invovled may have to start answering for why your case had the outcome it did. you don't want them thinking about that while they are working your case."
posted by sio42 at 9:25 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other possibility is worse, of course: that they break the rules from the word go all the time, and we only think the high-profile cases are exceptional because those are the ones that get investigated and reported on.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


yeah, that was my other point to my friend.

what about the ones we don't hear about?
posted by sio42 at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2013


Donald Trump is on the case.
posted by Artw at 9:39 AM on April 26, 2013


The chillingly similar case of the Norfolk Four was also profiled on PBS in the Frontline episode The Confessions. The Innocence Project has a whole page full of documentaries about wrongful convictions that is incredibly depressing to read.
posted by TedW at 9:42 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was living in NYC when this happened and I, like many other women my age, knew I could have been this jogger. That the men convicted for doing this were in fact innocent adds a huge additional layer of heartache and devastation to this dreadful story.

There are two things that stay with me in the wake of this justice system disaster. First, it is plainly about time that standard police procedure required taping of interaction with suspects/defendants from the get go, that every jurisdiction's rules of evidence required corroboration of a confession for admissibility, and that juries everywhere got standard instructions on the fact that false confessions are not uncommon.

Second, this case is a reminder of how truly destructive one conscienceless person can be.
posted by bearwife at 9:43 AM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Artw: "Donald Trump is on the case."

Jesus, what a piece of shit.
posted by notsnot at 9:47 AM on April 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was in New York City at the time and I just swallowed the bullshit stories that the newspapers fed me. When I realized I'd been fed a line, quite a few years ago now, it changed my perception of the media considerably.

The full revelation had to wait until they actually wrote an article about me in The Paper Of Record. There were errors in almost every single sentence... some tiny, some huge. It was quite a shock...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:49 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump is on the case.

The thing that baffles me about these people who see themselves as hard-nosed law-n-order types is that they don't seem to care about the idea that, if the prosecutor is railroading the wrong suspect, the guilty criminals are getting away scott-free.

Even if they don't give a damn about accidentally punishing the innocent, surely they can work up some rage about inept police and prosecutors letting the guilty go unpunished and free to commit other crimes?
posted by straight at 9:53 AM on April 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


Even if they don't give a damn about accidentally punishing the innocent, surely they can work up some rage about inept police and prosecutors letting the guilty go unpunished and free to commit other crimes?

Apparently Matias Reyes, the actual Central Park rapist, committed at least one additional rape after the jogger.
posted by TedW at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2013


oh god, "Wilding". That one fucking word made everyone under 18 suspect. I don't know how many concerned talks I got about wilding. Like anyone in that age range was just itching to kill.

Even at the time you could tell from the confession tapes it was bullshit, you have cops and parents in a room browbeating you to confess, what else are you going to do.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:12 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have worked with The Innocence Project and although the page after page of wrongful convictions are depressing, the work that organization does is truly amazing and the people they work with are unbelievable human beings. Connecting wrongfully convicted people together and their families into a nationwide support network, using the latest technology to revisit DNA evidence, holding authorities and power responsible for their continued victimization of poor people and people of colour who almost always make up the ranks of the wrongfully convicted.

A few years ago I was in Atlanta with the project, working with exonorees, including some of the Central Park Five, and let me tell you, there is something about being in a room full of people who have been on death row, had high profile trials and exonerations, been both pilloried and raised up by their communities. They have been broken down completely by these experiences, and had to return themselves to a life of innocence.

These are men and women whose very lives are the embodiment of the range of human capability, survivors, storytellers and in some cases, folks so infused with forgiveness that it was almost uncomfortable to be in their presence. Not everyone comes out of these experiences with a heart that can forgive, but the healing that these guys have to do includes reconciling themselves to their accusers and to the system that put them away for decades in some cases. And they have to do that while they are flooded with feelings anger and regret and blame and mistrust.

It is like being in a room full of Buddhas, each one on their own stage of a very public journey back to wholeness.
posted by salishsea at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


These cases are fascinating to me. I wish Don't Talk to the Police was taught in high school. Nothing good ever seems to come of it if you're a young (black) man accused of anything more serious than a parking ticket.
posted by desjardins at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wish Don't Talk to the Police was taught in high school.

Sometimes it is. I know that law students from Northwestern sometimes teach workshops in Chicago high schools to educate students about their rights and what they should do in encounters with the police.
posted by liketitanic at 11:00 AM on April 26, 2013


I was also female, living in New York City at the time - I think it was a touchstone for all of us.

But I couldn't find myself relieved by the overturning of the sentences. A rapist confessed and said he did it alone - but to take the word of a rapist is hard for me. Because one person was certainly the rapist doesn't mean that others were not. And it looks like at least one of the detectives agrees:
Detective Sheehan, who also worked on the Central Park jogger case that produced the convictions of the five Harlem youths, is among those who discredit Mr. Reyes's account that he acted alone in attacking the Central Park jogger. These detectives say he is a manipulator of stories and point to disparate accounts he has given of events in his life.
We don't know what might have happened. Why one of them confessed after hearing evidence had been taken from the scene of the crime implicating him. Did they watch? Did they see what was happening and join in, or help with her beating?

And even if they were innocent of the one rape, the idea that they also had all the other crimes and assaults they were convicted of vacated because of the "innocence" on the rape also bothers me.
posted by corb at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2013


This is my personal theory

When the police lied and said they had fingerprints they said "We are going to convict you whether you confess or not. If you confess we may go easy on you. If you don't you are going to get life"

Sure, you could be guilty and thinking "Oh shit, I really was there so maybe they do have my fingerprints" but Lets say you are innocent and the cops say they have your fingerprints, you would be thinking "These guys are going to railroad me into prison no matter what, I better try to make it easier on myself"

Unfortunately "never talk to cops" isn't really desirable either. We want people to report crimes and also provide testimony to put actual criminals away.

The cops have put themselves in this bind. Nobody trusts them yet they complain when witnesses don't talk.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:28 AM on April 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


corb: "And even if they were innocent of the one rape, the idea that they also had all the other crimes and assaults they were convicted of vacated because of the "innocence" on the rape also bothers me."

There was no evidence connecting them to the crime. None. Zilch.

The justice system does not lock people up for life if somebody has a "bad feeling" about them. No exceptions.

Their legal counsel was staggeringly incompetent, and their forced confessions were a clear violation of their 5th Amendment rights.
posted by schmod at 11:32 AM on April 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Corb...it is true that the folks I worked with were not innocent of all crimes...many of them had committed other crimes and this is one reason why they were targeted in the murders or rapes for which they were wrongfully convicted.

But for me, you should do the time for the crime you have committed, and not for other crimes. Reyes was the rapist, and the DNA evidence exonerated Korey Wise (the person I met in Atlanta). This isn't a simple case of "good guys being wrongfully accused of being bad guys." Rather, this is the bleeding edge of justice. this is where the concept of justice is really tested. A just society would, I would hope, at any cost, seek to ensure that innocent people are not convicted for crimes they did not commit. Addressing this pattern over time ensures that racism, and the targeting of poor people (among other prejudices) do not become institutional methodologies for getting convictions.

The Innocence Project uses good science and reasoned argument to do this, keeping up on the latest DNA technology to ensure that a just society can be possible. As far as I'm concerned they should be among the patron saints of the Metafilter pantheon.
posted by salishsea at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


Things people believe about accused criminals in the courtroom:

1. If they confessed to the crime, they are guilty.

2. If one or more eyewitnesses claim to have seen the guy do it: he did it, it was him.

Both of these are suspect for so many reasons. #2 is obvious. #1, not quite so obvious, unless you watch The Central Park Five or have heard about numerous incidents of false and/or coerced confessions.

By the way, ditto on the Don't Talk to the Police talk to high school students. Also, they should know that when an officer asks to search your car, you don't have to say yes. It's amazing how many people with illegal substances in their car think they have to submit to a search.
posted by kozad at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2013


When I first heard about this, I'd had no idea it was a Ken Burns movie. The story is compelling, but I tend to really enjoy his documentaries regardless, so I'm very much looking forward to watching this. If you want to get a DVD copy, you can do so right here.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:49 AM on April 26, 2013


Donald Trump is on the case.

In the words of Brian Williams: "So, that happened."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:07 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately "never talk to cops" isn't really desirable either. We want people to report crimes and also provide testimony to put actual criminals away.

"Don't talk to the police" means don't talk to them when they've accused you of something or if they could possibly gather evidence to accuse you of something (i.e., you should refuse a search without a warrant). I didn't mean literally do not speak to the police ever.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Don't talk to the police" means don't talk to them when they've accused you of something or if they could possibly gather evidence to accuse you of something

That would be nice but I'm inclined to believe the cops in NY see no distinction. I think they see everyone as a criminal they haven't caught yet. We are talking about a city with "Stop and Frisk" rules where just walking down the street makes you a suspect.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:26 PM on April 26, 2013


Then that falls under the "could possibly gather evidence" clause of my statement. I think young men of color are prima facie under suspicion in many parts of the US, so if I were them* I would treat every interaction with a cop as if they could be looking for evidence against me. I don't think that paranoia is unfounded at all in many communities.

*As a 38 year old middle-class white woman, I probably fall into the demographic of "least likely to be stopped-and-frisked," so take my opinion for what it's worth.
posted by desjardins at 1:18 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump is on the case.

I AM SO RELIEVED
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on April 26, 2013


I watched the doc last week, and the thing I didn't understand was why these 5 kids, out of the dozen or so kids they were with in Central Park that night, were the ones railroaded into confessing and sent to prison. Were they the only ones who were coerced into confessing *something*? Is it because they falsely implicated each other to try to show the police they were cooperating? Were the rest of the guys savvy enough not to talk to the police?
posted by donajo at 9:06 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Don't talk to the police" means don't talk to them when they've accused you of something or if they could possibly gather evidence to accuse you of something (i.e., you should refuse a search without a warrant). I didn't mean literally do not speak to the police ever.

If you don't talk to the police you can't be accused of lying to the police. There are people who have been exonerated of the actual crime, but convicted because their statements out of court were found to be false.

So my advice for anyone entitled to the protection of the Fifth Amendment is: let your lawyer talk to the police on your behalf.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:16 AM on April 27, 2013


This is the other side of "rape culture"---many rapes that go unprosecuted, and a few that inspire the entire country to go crazy looking for someone, anyone, to lynch. I hope people will remember this awful railroading the next time someone is publicly accused of a high-profile rape, and will stay aware that even when there's a confession to rape, we aren't sure what happened. But I doubt that will be the case, and I am pretty sure that many of the people shaking their heads here will be the first in line with pitchforks and torches the next time.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:31 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every time the local news starts warning of "wilding" in the toney district of the city where my office is, I'm reminded that the term "wilding" is said to have originated when the New York City police kept five boys awake for two straight days in order to get them to confess to a crime they did not commit.

There is so much in the justice system that needs correcting so we stop convicted innocent, mostly African-American, mostly young, mostly men. But we also need to get to ditch the profit/advertising/24 hour model for news which makes it a monster that eats this stuff up and shits out money for the producers. Selling thrills of horror is for novelists, for movies, for play-acting; it should not be tolerated in the press, which once was so esteemed and trustworthy, we protected it with the First Amendment to our Constitution.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:01 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Daily Show: Documentarian Ken Burns questions the New York City institutions that botched the "Central Park Five" case.
posted by homunculus at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I watched the doc last week, and the thing I didn't understand was why these 5 kids, out of the dozen or so kids they were with in Central Park that night, were the ones railroaded into confessing and sent to prison

They talk about it in the documentary, but the sense I get was basically that they were the ones unlucky enough to be caught by the police for a fight involving a bunch of kids earlier that night/before they found the woman. Then, they were already at the station and basically thought the incidents were connected? Or something?
posted by likeatoaster at 4:47 PM on April 29, 2013


Social Power And The Central Park Five
posted by homunculus at 2:30 PM on May 5, 2013


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