Acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay takes on one of the most significant criminal cases in history in Netflix's new original series, When They See Us. The new mini-series, which aired on May 31, tells the real-life story of the 'Central Park Five', a case in which five innocent teenagers were wrongfully convicted of rape and spent 13 years behind bars.
Detailing the story from beginning to now, When They See Us provides a frustrating unfolding of events for viewers. Below, everything to know about the real 'Central Park Jogger' case.
What Are The Details Around The Original Case?
On April 19, 1989, police found the body of Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman, in New York's Central Park. She was covered in blood and had been the victim of sexual assault. Despite no DNA evidence, fingerprints, blood or semen, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Antron McCray - five teenagers of colour aged between 14 and 16 - were convicted of her attack.
On the night of the attack, police caught the five boys who were then taken to Central Park station for questioning. Initially, the police prepared to charge them with unlawful assembly and refer them to the children’s court system, but New York District Attorney Linda Fairstein determined the boys were to blame for Meili's death and built a case around them (rather than conducting a full investigation).
Before the trial, the FBI tested the DNA of the rape kit and found it did not match any of the tested suspects. Despite this, police continued to testify that the five defendants were behind the attack. The defendants spent between 6 and 13 years in prison.
Watch the When They See Us trailer below:
When Were The Guilty Verdicts Overturned?
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, confessed to raping Meili. DNA evidence confirmed his guilt, and he knew facts about the crime that only the offender could have known. He also said he committed the rape alone.
In 2003, the five convicted men sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused to settle the suits for over a decade under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg because the city's lawyers felt they would win. When Bill de Blasio became Mayor, he decided to support the settlement and the city eventually settled for $41 million. As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.
What Was Donald Trump's Involvement?
In 1989 following news of Meili's attack, the now-President of the United States Donald Trump called for the return of the death penalty. Trump took out full-page advertisements in all four of New York's City's major newspapers, which called for "criminals of every age" who were accused "to be afraid". The advertisements were believed to have cost $85,000. In an interview with CNN at the time, Trump said to Larry King: "The problem with our society is the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights" and that "maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done".
After the city announced the Central Park Five's innocence, Trump wrote an opinion article for the New York Daily News. He called the settlement "a disgrace" and claimed the group's guilt was still likely: "Settling doesn't mean innocence...Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels."
When They See Us is available on Netflix.