On April 20, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was found passed out in Central Park. She had been jogging in the park the night before when she was assaulted and severely beaten with a rock, putting her in a state of lost consciousness for almost two weeks. The next day, a news story stated that a “wolf pack” of teenagers had targeted multiple people in the area on the night of April 19. Five teens were detained that night for unlawful assembly, and the news of what happened to Meili led police to bring them back in for questioning. At the time they were taken into custody, the boys were between the ages of 14 and 16.
After hours of intense interrogation during which law enforcement had refused them legal counsel and deprived them of water, food, and sleep for more than an entire day, the boys, who became known as the Central Park 5, confessed to the assault of Meili. They soon took back their statements but were still charged. Moreover, the coercive interrogation tactics used by the police were not made known to the public. As a result, there was a media outcry supporting their punishment, exacerbated by the prejudice and racial tensions already present in the case.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise were all tried separately. During these trials, no eyewitnesses or DNA evidence were presented linking them to Meili's case. Despite this, they were found guilty of various charges including attempted murder, assault, sexual abuse, rape, robbery, and riot. McCray, Salaam, and Richardson were subsequently given sentences of five to 10 years; however, Wise was 16 by the time of the trial and was tried as an adult, giving him a longer sentence. The five had served between six and 13 years when a new confession and DNA evidence in the case were released in 2002.
Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, confessed to targeting Meili and matched DNA found at the scene. In December 2002, the convictions of the Central Park 5 were erased. The next year, the five men filed a lawsuit against the city of New York for emotional distress and racial discrimination. The case was finally settled in 2014 for $41 million dollars.