On the night of April 18, 1989, Trisha Meili was brutally attacked while jogging through Central Park. Her attacker sexually assaulted her and nearly battered the life out of her. Meili's case immediately became a subject of outrage, and pressure built on police to make arrests. Under such muddled circumstances, the NYPD quickly found five teenage suspects to put on trial.
Four of the five confessed, but under dubious circumstances, and with little other evidence. Meanwhile, murderer and rapist Matias Reyes was left unquestioned about the crime. Through racial bias and a rush to convict, justice was miscarried and the true attacker slipped through the cracks for more than 10 years.
Many myths still exist about the Central Park Five case. The circumstances that led to five young men being convicted of a crime that evidence later showed they could not have committed are complex. Ava DuVernay's Netflix series When They See Us - which dramatizes the case of the Central Park Five, from the crime itself to the exoneration - became one of the streaming service's most successful offerings. What follows is a timeline of the events as they played out - an ordeal that lasted a decade and a half.
June 25, 1990: McCray, Salaam, And Santana Go On Trial
The five boys were split into two trials, with McCray, Salaam, and Santana being tried first. Faced with limited physical evidence, prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer relied largely on videotaped confessions by Santana and McCray. She also tied the attack on Trisha Meili with the crime spree that a large group of teens committed in Central Park that night.
However, none of the other seven victims of assault that night were ever able to identify any of the Central Park Five as their attackers.
July 31-August 1, 1990: Salaam Takes The Stand In His Own Defense
Over the course of two days, Salaam protested that he had been threatened by police and inappropriately separated from his family, as he was younger than 16 at the time of his arrest.
August 18, 1990: McCray, Salaam, And Santana Are Convicted On Various Charges
Despite the weak evidence against them, the first three boys to go to trial were convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. They were all sentenced to five to 10 years in juvenile detention. All three boys spent approximately seven years imprisoned.
Even after being set free, they were required to register as sex offenders.
October-December 1990: Richardson And Wise Are Tried And ConvictedPhoto: When They See Us/Netflix
The second trial began shortly after the first, with Richardson and Wise appearing in court together. Wise's confusing, contradictory videotaped confessions and his learning disability made the allegations of coerced confessions more believable to the jury. One juror later admitted she did not want to find Wise guilty, but was pushed to do so by other jurors. In the end, both boys were convicted.
Like the others, Richardson was sentenced to five to 10 years in juvenile detention. Wise, however, was tried as an adult. In addition to serving his sentence in prison, he received a longer sentence than the others: up to 15 years.