December 29, 2012 -- This Ken Burns documentary about the famous Central Park Jogger case of 1989 should prove a good counter argument to those in the Supreme Court and elsewhere who try to justify cutting back on civil liberties and protections against enhanced interrogations, illegal searches and seizures and who advocate for the expansion of police power. It shows what happens when police and prosecutors abuse their power.
According to this documentary, the five young black men arrested for the rape and beating of a white woman, Trisha Meili, in Central Park, New York City, were the victims of police and prosecutorial misconduct and a climate of rage and panic following the attack. The young men arrested, all 16 or younger, were Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam.
All five young men were convicted, despite the lack of a DNA match to any of them or any physical evidence linking them to the crime scene. They were also convicted despite the fact that the evidence at the crime scene indicated there was only one attacker, not five. Police put together a good story to support their gang rape theory and they got four of the five youths to confess after working on them for up to nine hours without a break. All four retracted their confessions, saying they had been coerced by police into confessing to something they had not done.
Since four of those convicted were juveniles, they served less time in prison than the 16-year-old defendant, Kharey Wise, who was tried as an adult. He ended up serving 13 years in prison. The convictions were vacated when another man, Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, confessed to the crime. It turned out his DNA was a match, the only match, to the semen found in the rape victim. The reaction of the police and prosecutors to this new evidence? They stuck to their story, insisting they did nothing wrong and the five youths were guilty.
What happens when police and prosecutors abuse their powers? The lives of those unjustly prosecuted are ruined forever, while the people who do this to them either get away with no punishment at all, or they are actually promoted and their lives are better despite making huge mistakes. There are probably a lot of cases like this that never come to light. This one only came to light because the real killer confessed. That is far more unusual than false convictions. This film rates a B.
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