tv

The Central Park Five spent years behind bars for a crime they didn't commit. This is their story.

Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix miniseries When They See Us was nominated for 16 Emmys. She brought the five men Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise – known as the Central Park Five and now referred to as the Exonerated Five – to the 2019 Emmy Awards as her dates, just as she promised. This is the disturbing true story behind the Central Park Five. 

On the night of April 17, 1989, Trisha Meili set off on her usual jogging route through New York’s Central Park.

The 28-year-old wouldn’t make it out of the park on her own. She was found in the early hours of April 18; she’d been raped, sodomised and beaten near death. The same night, a large group of Black and Latino youths were caught terrorising people in another area of Central Park.

Of that group, five boys were arrested over the rape and attempted murder of Meili aka the Central Park jogger.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.

These boys from Harlem became known as the Central Park Five, and are the real life people behind Netflix’s new four-part miniseries When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay.

You can watch the trailer for When They See Us below, post continues after video.

Video by Netflix

In 1990, all five were convicted of the crime and sentenced to prison, despite the prosecution led by Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer using coerced confessions and having no physical evidence tying the boys to the crime.

The case has been described as “one of the most shameful miscarriages of justice in New York State’s history”. It was so high-profile, a pre-presidency Donald Trump took out a full page ad in the New York Times calling for the death penalty for the five boys.

The men of the Central Park Five had their youth ripped away from them, and watching it play out on screen is truly sickening.

When They See Us is hard to watch, even more so when you remember it’s based on true events. Here’s what happened to the Central Park Five, and the real life faces and stories behind When They See Us.

What happened to the Central Park Five?

central park five 2019
The Central Park Five in 2019. Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

Each of the Central Park Five spent between six and 14 years in jail.

McCray, Richardson, Salaam, and Santana were sentenced to five to 10 years imprisonment, and Wise, aged 16, was charged as an adult and sentenced to five to 15 years.

In 2002, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the rape of the Central Park jogger after coming across Korey Wise in prison. Reyes was already serving a life sentence for other crimes and reportedly felt guilty seeing Wise serving time for a crime he did not commit.

DNA evidence supported Reyes' confession and the convictions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were vacated.

The Central Park Five won a US $41 million (AU $59 million) settlement from New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress in 2014.

When They See Us cast and real life Central Park Five.

Antron McCray (Caleel Harris and Jovan Adepo).

Antron-McCray-Caleel-Harris-
The real life Antron McCray and actor Caleel Harris. Image: Getty/Netflix.
ADVERTISEMENT

Antron McCray was 15 when he was convicted of the Central Park jogger crime. He was released from prison after serving six years.

According to The Innocence Project, 45-year-old McCray currently lives in Georgia with his wife and six children. He was the first of the five men to leave New York City.

Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk and Justin Cunningham).

Kevin-Richardson-Asante-Blackk
The real life Kevin Richardson and actor Asante Blackk. Image: Getty/Netflix.

Kevin Richardson was just 14 when he was arrested over the rape of Trisha Meili. He spent seven years in prison for the crime.

According to The Innocence Project, the 44-year-old now lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters. He also continues to work as an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse and Chris Chalk).

Yusef-Salaam-Ethan-Herisse
The real life Yusef Salaam and actor Ethan Herisse. Image: Getty/Netflix.
ADVERTISEMENT

Yusef Salaam served nearly seven years for the Central Park jogger crime after being arrested when he was 15.

The married father-of-10 continues to speak out about his ordeal, and in 2016, Salaam received the Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama.

The 45-year-old works as a motivational speaker, and is an author and advocate for reforms to the criminal justice system.

Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez and Freddy Miyares).

Raymond-Santana-Marquis-Rodriguez
The real life Raymond Santana and actor Marquis Rodriguez. Image: Getty/Netflix.

Raymond Santana Jr. was 14 when he was arrested for the crime and spent seven years wrongfully imprisoned.

After his release, he launched his own clothing label, Park Madison NYC.

A portion of the proceeds from the sales of one of his T-shirts, bearing the first names of the Central Park Five, is donated to the Innocence Project.

The 44-year-old now lives in Georgia with his teenage daughter. In 2015, he tweeted the idea of a Central Park Five drama to DuVernay, who messaged him back with interest.

Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome).

Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome
The real life Korey Wise and actor Jharrel Jerome. Image: Getty/Netflix.
ADVERTISEMENT

Korey Wise was the only defendant in the Central Park Five to be tried as an adult, as he was 16 when police officers tricked him into being interrogated, saying it would help his friend Yusef Salaam.

Wise spent the most time wrongfully imprisoned for the Central Park jogger crime. He spent more than 13 years behind bars - some of that time was served at New York's infamous Rikers Island, a jail reserved for the state's worst criminals.

Through his work with the Innocence Project, the 46-year-old advocates for the rights of the wrongly convicted as well as criminal justice reform. In 2015, he established and funded the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law School to provide pro-bono legal counsel to the wrongly convicted.

He is the only one of the five men who still lives in New York.

Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman).

Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman
The real life Linda Fairstein and actress Felicity Huffman. Image: Getty/Netflix.

Linda Fairstein was the Head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit who led the investigation into the Central Park Five.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even with no conclusive evidence to suggest the teenagers had anything to do with Trisha Meili's sexual assault, Fairstein refused to pursue other suspects, ordering the coercion of the boys' confessions under extreme duress.

Fairstein held her position as the Head of the Sex Crimes unit until 2002, the same year Reyes confessed to raping Meili and all five previous convictions were overturned. She then went on to write 20 mystery novels, sales from which have made her millions.

To this day, she maintains her defence of the Central Park Five prosecution.

In 2018, after New York City released thousands of pages of case documents supporting the decision to vacate the convictions, Fairstein wrote an op-ed in the New York Law Journal defending the initial convictions and saying the confessions weren’t coerced. In a 2002 interview with The New Yorker, she described the arrests of the suspects as “one of the most brilliant police investigations I’ve ever seen," People reports.

Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga).

Elizabeth-Lederer-Vera-Farmiga
The real life Elizabeth Lederer and actress Vera Farmiga. Image: Getty/Netflix.

Elizabeth Lederer was an Assistant District Attorney for the state of New York and the main prosecutor in the Central Park Five case.

She remains an active prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and is a lecturer at Columbia Law School.

You can watch all four episodes of When They See Us on Netflix now.

For more insight into the Central Park Five and When They See Us, read this excellent profile of all five men and the actors who played their teenage selves from The New York Times.

Have you watched When They See Us yet? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

00:00 / ???