Oct 7, 2002
Last January, an imprisoned serial rapist and murderer confessed to two separate, but similar, beatings and rapes of women in New York City's Central Park back in 1989. He described in detail to prison officials and investigators how he alone carried out these attacks. The district attorney's office has since determined that his DNA matches the DNA recovered from semen found on the sock of the second woman who was attacked.
There is a problem however. In 1990, five black and Puerto Rican teenagers, four of them under 16 years old at the time, were convicted of the second beating and rape – of a 28-year-old white woman who worked as an investment banker and had been jogging in the park. They all served long years in prison for it. Four of them have now completed their sentences and are out of jail. One is still serving time on another unrelated charge.
The only evidence actually linking these young teenagers to this crime were video-taped confessions from four of them. What hadn't been videotaped were the long hours of questioning and suggestion these teenagers had been subjected to during which they were isolated, intimidated and physically harassed by hardened police interrogators. The police failed to inform defense attorneys for the teenagers that an almost identical beating and rape had occurred nearby in the park only two days earlier.
The prosecutor introduced as evidence in the trial a blond human hair found on one of the young men, saying it came from the victim. Later DNA testing proved it did not. And as for the DNA from semen found on the victim, it did not match the DNA of any of the teenagers. But the police and prosecutors explained that a match wasn't needed to convict.
Although there were many inconsistencies in the prosecution's case, the media had carried on such a hate campaign against the five teens, that the trial was carried on in a lynch-mob atmosphere. The videotaped confessions were sufficient to convince the jury that the five teenagers were "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt".The same thing was true in a second trial, held after all the defendants retracted their testimony charging that the police had forced them to confess during the hours-long interrogations that occurred before their "confessions" were videotaped.
At the time of their second conviction, the teenagers' lawyers said they were the victims of racism. One said the real attacker was still unknown and would be out committing more rapes and possibly even murder.
He was right. After the teenagers were sent to prison, the real attacker went on to commit several more rapes, beatings and robberies, and also killed a pregnant woman before he was finally arrested and imprisoned. These victims also paid a price for the racism of the police and the news media.