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Documentary Provides New Look At Infamous Central Park Jogger Case

Central Park Five

Two of the five teenagers who were arrested and convicted in the brutal 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park, only to be exonerated 13 years later. (Credit: Sundance Selects)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Distinguished documentary maker Ken Burns and his daughter have developed a new look at the infamous Central Park Jogger case that rocked New York City back in 1989.

As CBS 2’s Don Dahler reported, Ken and Sarah Burns looked in particular at how the story captivated the city, and how it turned out to be completely false.

“(The suspects) had no voice,” Sarah Burns said. “They were treated as animals.”

Sarah Burns is the driving force behind “The Central Park Five,” which sheds light on the troubling aspects of the trial and conviction of five African-American teenagers who were later exonerated.

“This is about these five men who were children, and who were completely dehumanized,” Sarah Burns said.

The film traces the tale of the five teens, all falsely accused into coercing and confessing, and then convicted by juries of raping Trisha Meili, the 28-year-old Yale University alumna and Wall Street investment banker who was brutally attacked in Central Park on April 19, 1989.

Four of the defendants spent seven years in prison, and the fifth did 13 years’ time.

One of the defendants was Yusef Salam, now 38, but just 15 at the time.

“The narrative that they sold the public was completely false,” Salam said.

There were no witnesses or DNA evidence, and Meili had no memory of the attack.

But the story of an interracial gang rape gripped a city where the crime rate had been soaring for years.

“They wanted to solve this case so quickly that they felt like this story of the five sounded much, much better than there being one person,” Salam said.

The assailant was, in fact, only one person – Matias Reyes, an incarcerated serial rapist and murderer. Thirteen years after the fact, he came forward and DNA linked him to the crime.

A judge threw out the convictions of the Central Park Five. But questions lingered, such as how it happened at all.

“There wasn’t enough skepticism; people weren’t asking the right questions,” Sarah Burns said.

So why did the five innocent teens confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Exonerated defendant Raymond Santana, now 37, explained.

“We were 14, 15, 16-year-olds who’d never been involved with the law, who never had a criminal record, who were very naïve,” he said. “And then you add in no food, no drink, no water, no sleep, and then you throw in the number one ingredient is pressure.”

December will mark 10 years since the Central Park Five were cleared of the crime. The film “The Central Park Five” is in limited release and is set to air on cable next year.

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