Updated: Jul 3, 2019
***SPOILER ALERT*** The plot is discussed, but this is a case from 30 years ago so think its ok.
On May 31, Netflix released "When They See Us". It is a four part series on the Central Park Five case.
The 'cliff' (maybe more than just cliff) notes of the case are: on April 19 1989, Trisha Meili was jogging in Central Park around 9 pm. She was attacked, raped and beaten so badly that she ended up in a coma for twelve days. On the night of her attack, there were around 30 teenagers in the park allegedly being dicks.
Police brought four African american boys and one Hispanic boy into custody.
- Kevin Richardson
- Raymond Santana
- Antron McCray
- Yusef Salaam
- Korey Wise
They were interrogated without parents, food, sleep, or a basic understanding of their rights for at least seven hours before the detectives tried to tape their 'confessions'. They were tried on charges of assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse and attempted murder. The prosecutions whole case relied upon their confessions made during these interrogations. They withdrew their confessions on the basis they were coerced, plead not guilty and did not take offered plea deals. There was semen found but didn't match any of the boys.
Five teenage boys were convicted in 1990 in two separate trials. Sentences ranged from 5-15 years. Appeals were unsuccessful. They served between 6 and 13 years in prison
In 2001, a convicted murderer and serial rapist named Matias Reyes, confessed to the rape while he was in prison serving a life sentence. His DNA matched the only physical evidence with DNA that was found on and near Trisha. He said he committed the brutal act of violence on his own. The statue of limitations had passed so he was not prosecuted.
In 2002, the DA for New York County recommended the convictions be vacated. It would be as if they were never tried in the first place
In 2003, the five men sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. The city refused to settle because the city's lawyers thought the city could win in court. The city settled in 2014, for $42 million. They also filed a suit against the state of New York for an additional $52 million in damages, it was settled for $3.9 million in 2016.
I have heard of this case before and it is incredibly sad. It is sad for Trisha who was brutally assaulted and I am sure was never the same since. It is also sad for the five men who lost so much time. From what I understand, men in jail for rape don't fair too well, so I can only imagine what they went through.
I love a good true crime documentary as much as the next guy so when I saw that this was released I decided to watch it. I was not expecting the first episode to be so hard to get through. These boys are interrogated by police officers, directed by Linda Fairstein, to get confessions. You see these kids get berated, hit, screamed at, lied to and treated like scum. They were walked through their confessions until they matched up and were accurate enough to build a case.
The second episode was their trials. The five boys were split into groups of two and three. There was no way (hindsight is 20/20 and all that) that these kids should have been convicted. As a parent I cannot even imagine having to sit there and watch my kid go through that without being able to hold them and bring them home at the end of the day. They were all convicted. Korey Wise was the oldest, 16, and he was sent to adult jail.
The third episode showed the boys as they got out of jail. They were all grown up and had their own problems to deal with. It really highlighted how it can be difficult to get out of the system once you have entered it.
The fourth, and last, episode was the worst for me. I watched this as I sat alone in my camp room by myself sobbing. Full on ugly crying like Kim Kardashian. I really hope that no one was able to hear me through the incredibly thin walls, that would be embarrassing. There was no holding back tears. You watch Korey go into adult jail as a boy and going through the insane physical and emotional abuse was beyond heartbreaking. He was in solitary confinement quite a bit, he was attacked by other prisoners, he was beaten so horribly and so alone. Ugh, I can hear my heart breaking just thinking about it.
Turns out, Trishas actual attacker, who met Korey in Jail, was Matias Reyes. He was in jail for rape and murder. In 2002, he told the police that he acted alone and attacked Trisha when he was 17. He had information about the attack that was not public knowledge, his DNA was found on the scene. He was charged with a rape he committed two days before the attack on Trisha, and yet he was never a suspect for this case. He was not prosecuted for the crime as the statute of limitations was up (fuck the statute of limitations, by the way).
The men had their convictions overturned, after they had served almost all of their time.
Ava DuVernay did an incredible job of making this series. She knows exactly what she is doing to make you feel all the emotions in such a visceral way. I cannot wait to see what she does next as I am sure it will be equally amazing.
I am so glad that I watched the series but man am I glad it's over. At the end, you see the actual men who had their lives torn away from them so swiftly. Again, crying so hard I couldn't breath. After the release of this, the devil woman herself, Linda Fairstein, was dropped by her publisher and she resigned from the board at Vassar College due to the backlash from the series.
Overall, the series was incredibly well done. It is possible that there were some liberties taken in regards to the events throughout, however the fact that five boys were jailed for way too long only to be exonerated, is exactly what happened. The cast was amazing, the writing transports you into their world, momentarily. I was completely immersed in the show while watching it, nothing else existed. All I cared about was finding out that they were going to be okay. So please, go watch this series. Ugly cry by yourself and feel all the feels.