Who were the Central Park Five and why were they convicted?
Ava DuVernay’s much-anticipated miniseries When They See Us is making its Netflix debut this week – and it has a powerful story to tell.
The four-part series brings into focus the 1989 case of the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully convicted of raping a woman and spent between six and 13 years in prison – before the true culprit confessed to the crime.
The five went on to sue New York City in 2003 over their conviction.
The series spans the 25 years between the case and the settlement they eventually reached with the city of New York in 2014.
So who were the Central Park Five and what led to their conviction?
Here’s what you need to know.
Who were the Central Park 5?
The Central Park Five were teenagers Antron McCray, who was15, 14-year-old Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam,15, Raymond Santana, 15 and 16-year-old Korey Wise.
The five were arrested after a 28-year-old woman, Trisha Meili, was raped and beaten in Central Park, being found clinging to life in the the park in the early hours of 20 April 1989.
Melli, who had been jogging in the park, survived her injuries but was in a coma for 12 days after the attack and spent seven weeks in hospital – and had no memory of what had happened to her.
The five teenagers were brought in for questioning in the wake of a string of other attacks committed by a gang of over 30 teenagers who, according to authorities had been out ‘wilding’ – assaulting and robbing other joggers and cyclists – in Central Park that night.
Four of them confessed to the crime after hours of police interrogation – while implicating the fifth in the crime – and a media frenzy began, with the five being tried as adults under New York’s laws of the era.
Despite their confessions being inconsistent and there being no firm DNA evidence linking them to the crime or eyewitness accounts linking them to the assault, they were convicted, spending between six and 13 years in prison.
What happened next?
In 2002 a convicted serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes – who was already serving a life sentence in prison for other crimes, but had not been a suspect in the Central Park assault on Meili – confessed that he had attacked her on the night of 19 April 1989, saying he acted alone.
DNA evidence confirmed his confession, and although he was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed, and because his confessions did not place him at further risk of being charged with the crimes.
However it led to the office of District Attorney Robert M Morgenthau to re-examine the case of the five who had been convicted of the crime, which led to them all being exonerated and their names being cleared and removed from the sex offenders’ registry.
It did however lead them to launch lawsuits against the city of New York for $250m (£198.3m) for for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress.
These were eventually settled in 2014, with the five receiving $7.1m (£5.6m) each from the city.
When is When They See Us released?
The series is released on Netflix UK on Friday 31 May.
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