NEW YORK (CBSLA) — The Central Park Five — wrongfully convicted for beating and raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989 — say a $41 million settlement with the city has helped their lives, but will never replace the years they spent behind bars.
The five men talk about the settlement, their lives today and more in an interview with Maurice DuBois for “CBS Sunday Morning” to be broadcast Sunday, May 12 (6:30 – 8 a.m., PT)
Three decades ago, teenagers Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Kevin Richardson were tried and convicted for attacking jogger Trisha Meili. They all proclaimed their innocence and maintained they were coerced and beaten during hours-long interrogations by police, but were convicted and spent years in prison.
The Five (four black and one Latino) confessed to raping and nearly beating to death the young white female jogger. (The victim was in a coma for 12 days.) At the time, they all said they only confessed to make the beatings by police stop.
Their convictions were vacated in 2002, when another man already in prison Matias Reyes admitted he was the man who had raped Meili. In 2014 the City of New York settled a lawsuit with the five men for $41 million.
Did the money make their lives better?
“I mean, it made it better where we were able to – relocate. Put our children in better situations,” says Santana. “But besides that, no.”
“No amount of money could have given us our time back,” Salaam says. “And that time is really what’s important.”
The story of the Central Park Five is now the subject of a new Netflix mini-series from Oscar-nominated writer-director Ava DuVernay called “When They See Us.” (To see the trailer, click here.)
“My goal was to humanize boys and now men who are widely regarded as criminals,” DuVernay told DuBois. “And in doing that, to invite the audience to re-interrogate everyone that they define as a criminal.”
The case has also been the subject of a 2012 documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon.
A month after the park attack, then real estate mogul Donald Trump took out full-page ads in four NYC newspapers saying the boys should be executed and the death penalty reinstated. The ads and Trump’s rhetoric about the case, helped inflamed racial tensions in the city. After being exonerated he said the Five’s $41 million restitution was “ridiculous.”
While running for president in 2016, Trump double-downed on his attacks on the men saying the five were still guilty, despite DNA evidence to the contrary. Trump’s over-the-top comments about the men was one of the reasons Sen. John McCain publicly withdrew his support for Trump.
Police not only interrogated the teens for hours — without their parents present — they even suggested if they admitted to the crime (some not even being told what the crime was) they could just go home.
“We’re 14-, 15- and 16-year-old kids. Never been in trouble with the law. Never had no police contact. These are seasoned veterans, 20 years on the force,” says Santana. “This fight was fixed.”
Four of the five served about seven-year sentences as juveniles. The oldest, Korey Wise, was sentenced and served as an adult. He spent 13 tough years in prison.
The actual attacker, Reyes, had met Wise years before, and he began to feel guilty that Wise was still in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Reyes’ confession and DNA evidence led to the convictions of the Central Park Five being vacated.
Today, the men say the experience they’ve been through crosses their mind frequently.
“It’s every day. Constantly,” says Santana.
Is there a life lesson they take away from being arrested and wrongly convicted?
“Life lessons for me is just truth, truth,” McCray says. “I preach to my kids, ‘Just tell the truth. Be true to who you are.’ Honestly, the last time I lied, got me seven and a half years for something I didn’t do. So I’ll always preach that.”