TOPICS > Politics

Central Park Justice

December 24, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


BETTY ANN BOWSER: This is 14-year-old Raymond Santana confessing to a series of sensational robberies and beatings in Central Park in 1989, after more than 20 hours of questioning.

QUESTIONER: When you went into the park that night, why did you go into the park?

RAYMOND SANTANA: ‘Cause I thought we were going to beat people up, and take bikes, booze, and get money.

QUESTIONER: You went into the park to beat people up, to take bikes and…

RAYMOND SANTANA: Rob people and get money.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The crimes took place all over Central Park that night 13 years ago, but the one that drew the most attention happened near this popular jogging spot. Where a young white investment banker was brutally raped, beaten and left for dead. She became known as the Central Park jogger. Here’s what 16-year-old Kharey Wise had to say about the crime:

KHAREY WISE: Oh man, blood was scattered all over the place. I couldn’t look at it no more. Like I said, the reason I said I did it not just to prove myself because I don’t prove myself for nobody. I just did it because we went to the park.

QUESTIONER: To do what?

KHAREY WISE: For trouble. We went to the park for trouble and got trouble, a lot of trouble. That’s they wanted and I guess that’s what I wanted. When I was doing it, that’s what I wanted too. I can’t apologize because it’s too late. Now we got to pay up for what we did.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And pay up they did. Santana and Wise, along with three other teenagers, were charged with attacking the Central Park jogger, based almost entirely on their video taped confessions, like this one from 16-year-old Antron McCray, taken after more than 22 hours of questioning.

QUESTIONER: What happened when she came closer?

ANTRON McCRAY: That’s when we all charged her.

QUESTIONER: Did you charge her?


QUESTIONER: And who else charged her?

ANTRON McCRAY: Everybody. Everybody that was there,

QUESTIONER: What happened when you charged her?

ANTRON McCRAY: We charged her. She was on the ground. Everybody stomping and everything.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: There was almost no physical evidence linking the boys to the jogger. Still people were incensed. The boys seemed to show no remorse in their confessions, and the attack came at a time when crime rates were soaring. Attorney Barry Scheck, a life- long New Yorker, remembers what it was like.

BARRY SCHECK, Attorney: Just the incendiary nature of the attack on the jogger itself whipped New York City into a frenzy, it was awful. When the prosecutors came into court, you know, there were signs up saying we know where you live, the supporters of the young men were demonized in the press, it was a very, very difficult atmosphere, highly charged.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: All five boys were convicted of the attack on the jogger, but also of other crimes in the park that night. McCray, who has an I.Q. Of 87, served six years; Kevin Richardson then 14, served six and a half years in prison; Yusef Salaam, then 15, also six and a half years; Wise, the only one of the five charged as an adult, spent 11 and a half years behind bars, and Santana, convicted at 14, served eight years in prison. That seemed to be the end of the Central Park joggers case, until this man, a convicted murderer and serial rapist named Mathias Reyes, said he and he alone raped and beat the Central Park jogger. Here’s how Reyes described the attack to ABC News correspondent Cynthia McFadden.

CYNTHIA McFADDEN: Did you do it alone?

MATHIAS REYES: Mm-hmm absolutely.

CYNTHIA McFADDEN: Did you rape her?


CYNTHIA McFADDEN: Did you beat her?


CYNTHIA McFADDEN: Did you leave her for dead?

MATHIAS REYES: I thought I left her there for dead.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: More important, Reyes’s DNA matched that found on the jogger’s clothing. Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morganthau, whose own prosecutors convicted the five boys, launched an investigation. After 11 months, the DA released a report that concluded it was Reyes who raped and beat the Central Park jogger. The DA also found "troubling discrepancies" in the video taped confessions, like this one from Kevin Richardson.

QUESTIONER: Did she scream a lot?

KEVIN RICHARDSON: Like "help" and "stop."

QUESTIONER: Did anybody gag her?


QUESTIONER: Did anybody tie up her hands?

KEVIN RICHARDSON: Not that I seen.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Records show when police found the jogger not only were her hands bound, she was also gagged with her own T- shirt. On December 6, Morganthau’s office asked that the five– now men in their late 20’s– be exonerated not just of the attack on the jogger, but of all crimes committed that night. State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada concurred.

JUSTICE TEJADA: The motion is granted. Everybody have a merry Christmas and happy new year.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Most New York City police officers are furious, like former detective John Hyland who investigated the case. They think the DA has implied the police did something wrong in their questioning of the five teenagers.

THOMAS HYLAND, Former NYPD Detective: I think that’s a miscarriage. I think that’s wrong. It’s a tragedy and it’s a tragedy for every other detective who has to follow this, to be tagged or tattooed with the fact that the Manhattan district attorney’s not standing up for the detectives who took those statements. He’s kind of leaving it out there, if you know what I’m saying, that they were coerced. It’s really not fair because they were not coerced.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hyland agrees with overturning the verdict on the jogger, but thinks it was wrong for the five to be exonerated of other crimes committed in the park that night.

THOMAS HYLAND: Let’s make no mistake about it, I mean, these kids were involved in acts prior to the jogger. They were involved in robberies, they were involved in assaulting one or two of the joggers. Two of them just as recently I think as this year actually said they were in the park robbing people and attacking people. It’s their own admission that they said that, this past year. Because somebody comes forward and says yeah, I raped her, does not mean that the other acts did not happen.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is adamant that his department did nothing wrong in the jogger case, but attorneys for three of the men disagree.

MICHAEL WARREN, Defense Attorney: This happened as a result of overzealous police activity that resulted in the unwarranted and illegal and some say criminal seizure of statements from young children who were separated from their parents or those who could give aid and assistance to them during hours and hours and hours of interrogation.

ROGHER WAREHMAN, Defense Attorney: When a white woman is attacked or accused of being attacked by someone who is black or Latino, then logic, sense, justice, evidence go out the window. It becomes a question of "lets get one of them," any one of them — and that’s what happened here. Just get them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The outcome has left a lot of people asking how and why the teenagers would confess to something they didn’t do. Williams College psychologist Saul Kassin has been studying false confessions for nearly 20 years, and says when people are interrogated for 18, 20, 25 hours as were the suspects in the jogger case were, false confessions go up.

SAUL KASSIN, Williams College: What you often see in these false confession cases, when the men are declared innocent, the microphone is put in their face and obvious question is asked, if you’re innocent, why did you give a confession? Almost all of them say something like "because I just wanted to go home" — indicating a kind of a warped state of mind when you think about it. Are you trying to tell me the outside observer says, that you thought you were actually going to go home after confessing to a murder? Well, believe it or not, they did.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Long interrogations are not unconstitutional. Neither is confronting a suspect with false evidence, and there are other police practices that have passed constitutional muster.

JOHN TIMONEY, Former Deputy Commissioner, NYPD: If I’m convinced you’ve committed a crime, I can lie to you, I can tell you I found your glove at the scene, I found your fingerprints. Your partner gave you up, I can lie and deceive. Good cop-bad cop. I can do all that stuff.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: John Timoney is a former New York City detective who has also served as police commissioner in Philadelphia.

JOHN TIMONEY: The Supreme Court has ruled that that’s fine. As long as I didn’t force you to confess to something you didn’t commit, police officers are allowed to engage, if you will, in deceit, in trickery, in making up stories. Pretend like you have evidence you don’t have.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Can they promise you something in terms of prosecution?

JOHN TIMONEY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Or threaten you, conversely, with something?

JOHN TIMONEY: No. They should not. Absolutely not.

SAUL KASSIN: I think presentation of false evidence is one of those problem areas implicated in almost every false confession, lab studies that I and others have done show we can produce false confession in a laboratory by presenting false evidence to people. It clearly increases the risk of a false confession.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Attorney Barry Scheck works with law students on the innocence project, which uses DNA to overturn the convictions of innocent people.

BARRY SCHECK: We’ve now had 122 post- conviction DNA exonerations, and in 35 of those cases there have been false confessions or admissions and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When one goes back and looks at cases in the recent past where people have been arrested or indicted and then DNA tested, the cases are dismissed and they also falsely confessed.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Scheck, who assisted defense attorneys in getting the jogger conviction thrown out, thinks the answer is for state’s to require that confessions and interrogations be taped.

BARRY SCHECK: It won’t handcuff police. They can use all the tactics that Sipowitz uses on "NYPD Blue" when he’s acting ethically to tune up a suspect– good cop, bad cop, deception– can all be done. The only difference is that there’s a record. It protects police from unfair allegations that they coerced a confession or they suggested details; that happens a lot. It’s going to happen a whole lot more after the Central Park jogger case, and so many of these false confession cases. It only protects police and enhances their reputation for fairness if that whole procedure is video taped.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Timoney is not opposed to video taped interrogations, so long as the rules are clear.

JOHN TIMONEY: Before I would agree to do anything like that I want to make sure the definitions are correct, because I don’t want some slick lawyer misusing what was meant to be a good system. So for example, when the lawyers tell you we want all custodial interrogations videotape, as to what do you mean by that. Is that in the interrogation room in the precinct? Fine. But you can have a custodial interrogation two miles away from the station, out at the scene where you first put the handcuffs on, or you’re driving into the station house and you’re talking to him in the back seat of the car and you’ve advised him of his rights and he decides to confess. What are they going to say? "No, you can’t talk to him until you get to the station house and click on the cameras and do the recording." I don’t think so.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: While the debate over videotaping grows, the five exonerated men are keeping low profiles, but their attorneys are out front saying they’ll fight for police reforms and seek monetary damages for their clients.