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Study Guide

Central Park Five

The Story | People | Artists | Art Forms | Enrichment Activities

Central Park Five, a documentary film by award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, tells the story of five African-American and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of a brutal crime in Central Park in 1989. In their own words, the men take us through their heart-wrenching journey: their arrest, interrogation, coerced confessions, trials, prison terms, and the eventual overturning of their guilty convictions. The filmmakers interweave archival footage, photographs, newspaper headlines, and interviews with individuals directly involved in what became a grievous miscarriage of justice and one of the most polarizing events in recent New York City history.

In the early evening of April 19, 1989, a woman was attacked while jogging through Central Park. She had been bound, gagged, beaten, raped, and left for dead. The woman was discovered early the next morning, unconscious and clinging to life. She was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors held out little hope that she would survive her injuries.[more]

That same evening, the local police precinct received phone calls describing random beatings and muggings by teenagers in Central Park. In response to these reports, the police arrested a number of young men, including Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana. When the police learned of the assault on the jogger they targeted the boys for questioning about it.

The five teenage boys sat for hours without food, water, or sleep while police officers relentlessly interrogated them: yelling, swearing, and grilling them. But the young men knew nothing about the attack on the jogger. The detectives told the young men that other suspects had already implicated them, and they wouldn't be allowed to go home until they admitted their involvement in the assault.

The police interrogation was so intense that the young teens would say anything to bring it to an end. With seemingly no choice, each teen confessed to attacking the jogger, though in reality they were innocent and their confessions were fabricated.

The young men were convicted and received sentences of five to 15 years despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected them to the victim.

Thirteen years after the attack, serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the assault. The judge set aside the guilty verdict for all five men, ruling that if the evidence and Reyes' confession had been available at trial the boys would not have been convicted.

On June 19, The New York Times reported that New York City had agreed to a settlement. Read the article.[/more]