Ten years ago, a Manhattan judge vacated the convictions of five men for raping and beating a jogger in Central Park. For almost the entire time since then, the city and the five have battledwith no hint of compromiseover the men's allegations that they were the victims of a malicious prosecution.
Facing claims of $50 million in damages from each plaintiff, the city's attorneys have aggressively defended the actions of police detectives and prosecutors in eliciting confessionsconfessions it says gave them plenty of probable cause to arrest and prosecute teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Jr., Kharey Wise, and Yousef Salaam.
The plaintiffs' lawyers counter that the confessions from four of the defendants, the central evidence in the controversial case of "The Central Park Jogger," were coerced by investigators under so much pressure to solve the crime that they overlooked evidence pointing to the man who actually perpetrated the assault.
Meanwhile, the strong emotions stirred by the case have been highlighted by a new documentary, "The Central Park Five," which is set to have its public premiere tonight at three New York City theaters and was co-directed by noted filmmaker Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon.
The film, and the book by Ms. Burns on which it is based, argue that the five young men were the victims of racism and a mob mentality in crime-ridden New York. In fact, Ms. Burns suggests in her book, that the case was comparable to lynchings in the South perpetrated by "angry white mobs, terrified and incensed at the spectre of their women in danger from black men."
"I hope this film makes you angry," Sarah Burns told one recent festival audience.
But the city, which has subpoenaed the film's outtakes for use in its defense against the civil claims in federal court, has offered no apologies.
"If there is probable cause, there is no malicious prosecution," Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, said in a statement. "If there is no wrongdoing, there is no malicious prosecution. We don't believe the plaintiffs can make a case for either. There is no evidence to support the plaintiffs' claim that police and prosecutors conspired to falsely arrest them and coerce their confessions."
One of the defendants, who are now plaintiffs in the federal civil rights action, was 16, two were 15 and two 14 on April 19, 1989, a night of youth "wilding" in Central Park, when 28-year-old Patricia Meili was raped and left for dead.
(Meili, who later wrote her own book about the case, could remember nothing about the attack.)