One of five who falsely confessed in jogger case
Yusef Salaam, 15, was one of five black teenagers wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a 28-year-old white woman jogger in New York's Central Park in 1989.
The youths were arrested after a night of rampage that became known as a "wilding." After interrogations ranging from 14 to 28 hours, they gave videotaped statements saying that they fondled, kicked, and beat the victim. Each, however, denied committing the rape itself. The victim, an investment banker, was near death when found. She emerged from a coma 12 days later, with no memory of what happened.
Details of the defendants' statements were inconsistent with facts of the crime. For instance, when police took two of the suspects, 14-year-old Kevin Richardson and 16-year-old Kharey Wise, to the park and asked them separately where the attack occurred, they pointed in different directions.
Wise also claimed that the victim's clothes were cut off her with a knife, but the clothes were not cut. Another of the suspects, Antron McCray, 15, said the jogger wore blue shorts and a T-shirt, but she actually wore long black tights and a long-sleeve jersey.
Aside from the dubious confessions, the only evidence purporting to link the youths to the crime was three hairs recovered from Richardson's clothing. The hairs were described by a prosecution forensic witness as "consistent with" with the victim's hair.
The five teenagers were tried in 1990 and 1991, and juries found them guilty of assault and rape. Wrongfully convicted, in addition to Richardson, Wise, and McCray, were Yusef Salaam, 15, and Raymond Santana, 14. All were tried as juveniles and sentenced to five to ten years in prison, except Wise, who was tried as an adult and sentenced to five to 15 years.
All of the youths were exonerated after DNA corroborated the confession of a violent sex criminal, Matias Reyes, that he alone committed the crime. After he happened to meet Wise in prison, Reyes said he became remorseful and decided to admit what actually happened. Reyes, who was serving 33 years to life for murdering one woman and raping three others, first told a prison guard in January 2002 that he had raped and beaten the jogger.
In May 2002, DNA confirmed that biological evidence recovered from the victim's clothing indeed had emanated from Reyes. Subsequent DNA testing confirmed that the hairs recovered from Richardson and used against the teenagers at trial were not the jogger's. By this time, all of the defendants except Wise had completed their sentences and been released; Wise completed his sentence in August 2002.
After a reinvestigation of the case, the convictions finally were vacated on December 19, 2002, at the request of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who released a statement saying, in part:
"My decision to request that these convictions be set aside was based upon an extensive, complex, and painstaking investigation of newly discovered evidence and the probable impact of that evidence on the outcome of the original trials in this case. I made that decision, after careful consultation with senior prosecutors in this office, to fulfill my obligation to uncover the facts, to apply the law without fear or favor, and to see that justice is done."
Jurisdiction: New York County, New York.
Date of crime: April 19, 1989
Date of arrest: April 20, 1989
Charge: Rape and assault
Sentence: 5 to 15 years
Release date: October 1995 (exonerated December 18, 2002)
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 78
Age at time of arrest: 15
Defendant race: African American
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record:
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: False confessions of all five defendants, junk science
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes
Exonerated by: Confession of actual rapist, corroborated by DNA
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: None as of December 2002
— Rob Warden