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When They See Us (2019)

REEL FACE: REAL FACE:
Jharrel Jerome
Born: October 9, 1997
Birthplace:
The Bronx, New York, USA
Korey Wise
Born: abt 1972
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Asante Blackk
Born: October 20, 2001
Birthplace:
Maryland, USA
Kevin Richardson
Born: 1975
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Ethan Herisse
Born: 2001
Birthplace:
Los Angeles, California, USA
Yusef Salaam
Born: February 27, 1974
Birthplace: Harlem, New York City, USA
Caleel Harris
Born: April 19, 2003
Antron McCray
Born: 1974
Birthplace: Harlem, New York City, USA
Marquis Rodriguez
Born: September 17, 1998
Raymond Santana
Born: September 7, 1974
Birthplace: USA
Felicity Huffman
Born: December 9, 1962
Birthplace:
Bedford, New York, USA
Linda Fairstein
Born: May 5, 1947
Birthplace: Mount Vernon, New York, USA

Head of Sex Crimes Unit / Prosecutor
Vera Farmiga
Born: August 6, 1973
Birthplace:
Clifton, New Jersey, USA
Elizabeth Lederer
Born: October 13, 1954
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA

Assistant District Attorney
Len Cariou
Born: September 30, 1939
Birthplace:
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Robert Morgenthau
Born: July 31, 1919
Birthplace: New York City, USA

New York County District Attorney
William Sadler
Born: April 13, 1950
Birthplace:
Buffalo, New York, USA
Detective Michael Sheehan
Born: abt 1948
Birthplace: New York, USA
Death: June 7, 2019, Manhattan, New York City, USA (cancer)
Reece Noi
Born: June 13, 1988
Birthplace:
Manchester, England, UK
Matias Reyes
Born: 1971
Birthplace: Puerto Rico

Convicted Serial Rapist
Alexandra Templer
Trisha Meili
Born: June 24, 1960
Birthplace: Paramus, New Jersey, USA

Central Park Jogger
John Leguizamo
Born: July 22, 1964
Birthplace:
Bogotá, Colombia
Raymond Santana Sr.
Birthplace: Puerto Rico

Raymond's Father
Michael Kenneth Williams
Born: November 22, 1966
Birthplace:
Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Bobby McCray
Born: March 25, 1955
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Death: September 15, 1997

Antron's Father
Joshua Jackson
Born: June 11, 1978
Birthplace:
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Michael 'Mickey' Joseph

Antron McCray's Attorney

Questioning the Story:

Was Kevin Richardson struck in the face with an officer's helmet?

When They See Us depicts Officer Robert Powers tackling Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk) as he runs away. Powers then viciously smashes his helmet across Richardson's face. This is taken directly from how Richardson described it in the Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five. While it's not impossible that the When They See Us real story played out in a similar manner, Power's partner, Eric Reynolds, tells a different account of the arrest. He said that the one problem with the miniseries' version of the arrest is that Powers didn't wear a helmet. "He had no helmet on," said Reynolds, "so there was no way for that to happen." VIDEO: Detective Eric Reynolds Tells the NYPD's Side of the Story

If Richardson was struck during the arrest, it's fairly clear that the miniseries significantly exaggerates the injury. There is photographic evidence of Kevin Richardson being escorted by plainclothes Anti-Crime Unit Officer Eric Reynolds (falsely depicted in a uniform in the miniseries) into New York City's 24th Precinct on the night of April 19, 1989, and Richardson does not have a puffy and swollen left eye. Later, in Kevin Richardson's videotaped confession, there is again no sign of a puffy eye, only a slight scratch that Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer questions him about.

The two images on the right are of Kevin Richardson during his confession approximately a day-and-a-half after he was arrested. There is no visible swollen left eye. Another photo exists of him being escorted into the precinct on the night of his arrest. It too shows no swollen eye. Reynolds injury looks far worse in the miniseries (left).

Detectives at the precinct did question Kevin Richardson about a scratch they noticed on his face near his left eye. Richardson initially blamed the scratch on Officer Eric Reynolds' partner, Officer Powers. However, Reynolds says that when detectives told Richardson they'd go next door and ask Powers if it was true, it was then that Richardson changed his story. According to Reynolds, Richardson sort of put his head down and said, "It was the jogger. The female jogger did it." Richardson then began to offer up information about the attack. Reynolds says that this was the moment when the police realized the teens were involved in the attack on the female jogger. -Daily Mail



Did Korey Wise really go to the station to support his friend Yusef Salaam?

The When They See Us true story verifies that Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam were close friends prior to becoming part of the Central Park jogger case. They had known each other since childhood (Express.co.uk). Salaam had been at Wise's house on the day of the Central Park assaults. In the miniseries, Wise decides to go to the station out of loyalty to Salaam. However, according to retired NYPD detective Eric Reynolds, who as an officer arrested two of the Central Park 5 (along with several more teens from the group), he says that Korey Wise was named by other teens who were questioned, and that officers and detectives went specifically to look for both Wise and Salaam. Reynolds implied that the notion that Wise went to the precinct out of loyalty to Salaam is ridiculous (Daily Mail).

In The Central Park Five documentary, Salaam says that he bumped into Wise, who told him that detectives were looking for them. They went upstairs to Salaam's apartment and the detectives were standing by the door. They informed Wise that his name wasn't on their list, but that he could come to the station to support his buddy. In the Netflix miniseries, this all happens in the street.



Do the actors resemble their real-life counterparts?

To a certain degree, the When They See Us real people and cast do resemble each other. However, Asante Blackk, who portrays the young Kevin Richardson in the miniseries, not only looks younger than the real Richardson (then 14), he looks like the cute kid from a Nickelodeon series. He looks nothing like the actual Richardson. This is also true of Raymond Santana's onscreen counterpart, Marquis Rodriguez (pictured below), who resembles Santana only by way of a dark peach-fuzz mustache. The Korey Wise character on the other hand looks closer to the real-life Wise. Jharrel Jerome, who plays Wise both young and old, also worked on talking like him. Director Ava DuVernay portrays the teens as being in every way the embodiment of youthful innocence, but that's a deviation from the real story of the Central Park 5.

Actor Marquis Rodriguez (left) in Netflix's When They See Us, and Raymond Santana (right) in real life. Source: Netflix, The Central Park Five (documentary)




Did the Central Park 5 have previous criminal records?

No. The co-director of The Central Park Five documentary, Ken Burns, emphasized this during a Times Talks interview, pointing out that other members of the large group in Central Park that night who were involved in the assaults did have previous criminal records, but not the Central Park 5. There was no criminal history of them behaving in such a way.

However, while investigating the When They See Us real story, we discovered that although the five teens had no criminal records, they had gotten into some trouble in the past. In the year prior to the Central Park attacks, Yusef Salaam had been suspended from LaGuardia High School for weapons possession after he was caught with a knife and ninja star (this information was presented at the trial). Korey Wise was noted by neighbors as trying to emulate his older brother, who was a drug felon. To escape an unstable situation at home, Wise ended up in foster care for a time before moving back in with his mother in the Schomburg Plaza. He also cut classes (this is only playfully emphasized in the Netflix miniseries). Raymond Santana was noted by school officials as having a short temper and had been suspended during the previous year for fighting. Teachers stated that Antron McCray was prone to outbursts and had a tendency to become violent, even pushing a teacher on one occasion who reportedly quit over the incident. Kevin Richardson's past most aligns with his persona in When They See Us. He was noted by neighbors and teachers as being a shy and quiet kid who kept out of trouble. Those who knew him were shocked when news broke that he was allegedly involved in the Central Park assaults.

The above information comes from a New York Magazine article at the time. Many similar articles existed and most included a lot more information about the five, but their reliability is questionable since they often played up the guilt of the teens and sensationalized their pasts.


Learn more about the When They See Us real people by watching the documentary The Central Park Five, directed by Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah. The documentary tells their side of the story.



Were the Central Park 5 as innocent as the miniseries portrays them to be?

No, and this is one of the miniseries' biggest failures. It portrays them as completely innocent boys who were more or less in the wrong place at the wrong time. The true story reveals that the Central Park 5 were part of a group of more than 30 teenagers from East Harlem, who entered Central Park and began committing assaults, robberies and attacks on walkers, joggers and bikers in the northernmost region of the park. The miniseries does a disservice to the victims by misrepresenting these attacks and failing to depict their severity, which is well documented.

For example, 52-year-old Antonio Diaz was knocked to the ground near 105th street, and was punched and kicked repeatedly until he lost consciousness. The mob of teens robbed him of his food and poured his beer on him. 40-year-old schoolteacher and former marine John Loughlin was beaten, kicked and robbed. He was hit in the head with a pipe, which left him momentarily unconscious. An officer later testified that when Loughlin was found, it "looked like he was dunked in a bucket of blood." Both of his eyes were shut and he had a cracked skull. A couple on a tandem bike rode past the group and several yelled, "Whitey" and "F---ing white people," while some tried to grab at them as they escaped (New York Magazine). By today's standards, these attacks should have been labeled hate crimes. Yet, they're given little attention in the miniseries, which goes as far as to show the bicyclists and joggers somewhat provoking the attacks.

In When They See Us, the group of teens are acting a little wild, but they're shown strolling harmlessly through the park (in reality they entered the park throwing bottles and rocks at cars). A cyclist speeds through the group, nearly grazing them as he tells them to "back off." It's then that the teens, who are nearly run into by the cyclist, respond by shoving him. The truth is that there were multiple bicyclists harassed and attacked. After this, we see a group of teens surround a white man. They punch him, knock him to the ground, and kick him. However, even this assault is depicted as a sort of fighting back, because at the same time we clearly hear one of the attackers state, "Bunch of white dudes jumped me in the Bronx last week. Payback's a bitch." Portraying the attacks this way is not only disgraceful and disrespectful to the victims, it's a complete misrepresentation of the actual crimes, which were "grave and inexcusable."

In the miniseries, Assistant DA Nancy Ryan (Famke Janssen), who is the voice of reason to Felicity Huffman's Linda Fairstein, dismisses these other assaults in the park as "a dozen kids harassing bicyclists." That's far from what the real Nancy Ryan said in her 2002 brief, stating that "the other crimes committed on April 19 were grave and inexcusable—unprovoked attacks on strangers, apparently undertaken for the fun of it, which left some terrorized, two knocked into unconsciousness, and one seriously injured."

At no point in the miniseries do we see Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise or Yusef Salaam involved in these assaults. They just watch in shock and hurry away as things become violent. The miniseries' unequivocal stance that the teens were entirely innocent bystanders is highly questionable and unlikely. After all, why then were they there in the first place, and why didn't they leave or call for help? The teens also confessed to these crimes, which included the attack on the teacher Loughlin and another male jogger, and they didn't deny them until much later, long after they said that they were coerced into confessing to the rape of Trisha Meili. Several of the teens also consistently described Yusef Salaam as carrying a pipe and using it in the assaults. At the trial, he said he was just holding it for someone.


Actor Ethan Herisse (left) in Netflix's When They See Us, and the real Yusef Salaam as a teen (right). Source: Netflix, The Central Park Five (documentary)

In her 2002 brief, Assistant DA Nancy Ryan never cleared the five for these other crimes, citing that those confessions didn't have the same problems that the rape confessions had. She even stated that "in interviews in 2002, both Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana candidly acknowledged involvement in criminal incidents that occurred on April 19, while steadfastly asserting their innocence of rape." -The Bulwark

Before Raymond Santana was aware that Matias Reyes came forward and confessed to the rape of Trisha Meili, he was interviewed in 2002 by Prosecutor Peter Casolaro and a detective, Rob Mooney. Santana described how he was coerced with a good cop-bad cop routine during his confession 13 years earlier, which pressured him into falsely confessing to the rape. However, according to Casolaro and Mooney, Santana admitted to the assault and robbery of a man who was beaten at the reservoir. He also acknowledged that he was part of the large group of teens who had gone into the park to cause trouble. -The New York Times

The irony is that part of the new evidence that helped to exonerate the Central Park 5 with regard to the rape and assault of Trisha Meili, is a reconstruction of the timeline from that night, which instead of placing the five teens at the rape scene, placed them at muggings and beatings elsewhere in the park, either as participants or spectators (some questioned the new timeline's accuracy and its margin of error). "That was the issue," said Peter Rivera, Raymond Santana's lawyer in 1990. "But we didn't say, 'No, when the jogger was raped, my client was on 96th Street, mugging someone else.' That would have been self-defeating" (The New York Times).

Upon vacating the Central Park 5's convictions in 2002 after Matias Reyes confessed to the rape of Trisha Meili and claimed that he was the sole attacker, State Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada said that the innocence of the young men in the unprovoked attack on schoolteacher John Loughlin wasn't as clear-cut, but he ruled that Reyes' admission to the rape essentially weakens the reliability of all the convictions. -am New York

"Mr. Reyes' confession, DNA match and claim that he acted alone required that the rape charges against the five be vacated," Linda Fairstein wrote in a 2019 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. "I agreed with that decision, and still do. But the other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated. Nothing Mr. Reyes said exonerated these five of those attacks."



When Yusef Salaam's mother arrived and told the police he was fifteen, did Linda Fairstein then demand to see a birth certificate?

"The film claims that when Mr. Salaam's mother arrived and told the police her son was 15, meaning that they could not question him without a parent in the room, I tried to stop her, demanding to see a birth certificate. The truth is Mr. Salaam himself claimed to be 16, and even had a forged bus pass to prove it," says the real Linda Fairstein. "When I heard his mother say he was 15, I immediately halted his questioning. This is all supported by sworn testimony." -WSJ



Were the Central Park 5 convicted of other assaults in the park?

Yes. This is something else that the miniseries largely omits. In addition to being convicted of raping the female jogger, Trisha Meili, they were charged in other brutal assaults in the park as well. With regard to the trial of Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana, the jury deliberated for ten days and on August 18, 1990, "the jury convicted each defendant of one count of Assault in the First Degree and Rape in the First Degree for the attack on the Central Park jogger; Robbery in the First Degree and three assault charges for the attack on John Loughlin; Assault in the Second Degree for the attack on David Lewis; and Riot in the First Degree."

Kevin Richardson and Kharey (Korey) Wise were tried together in a second trial that ended on December 11, 1990. "Richardson was found guilty of each count of the indictment. Wise was convicted of Assault in the First Degree and Sexual Abuse in the First Degree with respect to the attack on the Central Park jogger, and of Riot in the First Degree. He was acquitted of the remaining charges. Because of Richardson's age, Justice Galligan set aside all of Richardson's convictions except for those for Attempted Murder in the Second Degree and First Degree Robbery, Rape, and Sodomy." The convictions listed in this answer are presented as stated in the Morgenthau Motion.



Did Antron McCray's father convince his son to lie and tell the detectives what they wanted to hear?

As we explored the When They See Us real story, we learned that Antron's father, Bobby McCray, testified in 1990 that he instructed his 16-year-old son to confess, even if it was a lie. Antron says that up until that point, he had kept telling the police the truth. Like in the miniseries, his father left the room to speak to the police privately. He reentered the room "cursing, yelling at me," Antron said. "And he said, 'Tell these people what they wanna hear so you go home.' I'm like, 'Dad, but I didn't do anything.'" Antron says that as both the police and his father were yelling at him, he changed his story. "And [I'm] just like, 'All right. I did it.' And I looked up to my father. He is my hero. But he gave up on me. You know, I was telling the truth and he just told me to lie." -CBS News

Actor Caleel Harris (left) portrays Antron McCray as a teenager in the When They See Us miniseries. The real Antron McCray (right) on his way into court in 1990.



Were the confessions of the Central Park 5 coerced?

This is what the miniseries embraces wholly throughout, drawing from the claims made by the teens and their defense attorneys. One of the biggest questions surrounding the confessions is what went on in the combined 30-plus hours of interviews and interrogations that took place with each teen before the confessions were videotaped. It was certainly enough time to do as the Netflix miniseries asserts, to interrogate, threaten and coerce the defendants into implicating each other. Like in the miniseries, their parents were often not in the room during the questioning, but they were present for the videotaped confessions (it's true that one of the teens, Yusef Salaam, did not give a videotaped confession).

The When They See Us true story confirms that from early on in the trial, the defense argued that Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Kharey (now Korey) Wise had been coerced or tricked into confessing. It's also true that the teens, now men, have long claimed that their confessions came after being denied sleep and food for dozens of hours. They first made these claims in their pre-trial hearings (Armstrong Report). In the end, the racially diverse juries didn't buy the defense's argument of coercion. At the time, the videotaped confessions were much more tangible and powerful in their impact.

Antron McCray: "We charged her. We got her on the ground. Everybody started hitting her and stuff. She was on the ground. Everybody stompin' and everything. Then we got, each – I grabbed one arm, some other kid grabbed one arm, and we grabbed her legs and stuff. The we all took turns getting on her, getting on top of her."

Kevin Richardson: "Raymond had her arms, and Steve [Lopez] had her legs. He spread it out. And Antron got on top, took her panties off."

Raymond Santana: "He was smackin' her, he was sayin', 'Shut up, bitch!' Just smackin' her … I was grabbin' the lady's tits."

Korey Wise: "This is my first rape."

Certain journalists have argued that coercion doesn't make sense because if the police knew that the brutalized female jogger might survive and emerge from her coma, then why would they coerce the confessions when it's possible she'd wake and remember everything? It could be because during the first couple days, Trisha Meili wasn't expected to survive, and if she did ever wake from her coma, it was expected she would suffer from severe brain damage. Yet, the most likely explanation is the one that adheres more to the truth, that the detectives were certain that one or more individuals in the group of 30-plus teens were responsible, since they were already known to have brutally assaulted other joggers, bicyclists, and strolling pedestrians. The chance that they assaulted the female jogger, Trisha Meili, was almost a guarantee. Even if Meili came out of her coma in the weeks after the attack and identified different members of the group, the detectives could just course correct by releasing the teens in custody and arresting the guilty ones.

The problem is that When They See Us plays everything to the extreme, from exaggerating Linda Fairstein's involvement (in real life, she wasn't even there the first day) and her role as the villain (she fictionally declares, "Every young black male who was in the park last night is a suspect in the rape of that woman!") to depicting the teens being threatened and beaten into coercion. Director Ava DuVernay based her miniseries on the stories told by the Central Park 5, which were used by the defense in their trial. Given that there's no substantial proof of coercion, at least not to the extent we see in the series, it certainly makes sense to wonder how much the defense exaggerated such claims because it was the only argument they had in light of the taped confessions the four had made.

While it's possible that some degree of coercion did take place, it's highly unlikely that it was the violent, racially-fueled version we see in the miniseries. The detectives—Humberto Arroyo, Carlos Gonzalez, and John Hartigan—could have simply coerced the five teens by making threats of imprisonment, pressuring them by telling them others were implicating them, and promising, "Tell us who did it and you can go home." Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, but the series clearly takes dramatic license with its depiction of police brutality, including the beatings, black eyes and swollen faces. We need only look at mugshots and images of the teens coming out of the precinct.

The truth is that it didn't take much to scare the teens into lying during their videotaped confessions. This should have made the investigators and prosecutors much more skeptical of what they were hearing, but it didn't. Take Korey Wise's confession for example. In the first part, Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer presses Wise as to how Trisha Meili got her face smashed in. Lederer all but leads him into saying it was a rock, which he didn't say earlier when talking about the attack. Realizing he might have been feeling pressured into telling her what she wanted to here, Lederer remarks, "I'm telling you Korey, I don't want you to think that you have to say that, but I wanna know what you saw that explains how she got so badly hurt." Wise pauses and then tells her that he saw Kevin Richardson pick up a rock and hit the female jogger across the face with it. Lederer responds, "Are you just saying that because I'm asking you?" Immediately after his confession, he admits to lying through the whole thing in order not to implicate himself. He sits down with Lederer again that same day to record another confession.


Korey Wise's real-life confession proves that it didn't take much to scare the teens into lying, largely to avoid implicating themselves.

Other than the teens' claims, the only actual evidence we have that points to coercion is the often inconsistent statements that the teens make about the rape in their videotaped confessions. This includes unclear or inaccurate statements with regard to the crime's location, the jogger's clothing, and other details. However, it is unknown how much of their inconsistencies were due to the fact that they were trying to avoid implicating themselves. The inconsistencies drew more focus after serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed in 2002. It was then that the teens' claims of coercion became more accepted, 13 years after their arrests.

As for the detectives, NYPD, and city officials, they maintain that the teens weren't coerced. In 2002, Detective Humberto Arroyo, who elicited a confession from Raymond Santana, called the notion of coercion "ridiculous." "Their lawyers are making it seem like a quasi-Moscow-Afghani interrogation room. Absolutely not," he told the New York Post. "This was Interviewing 101." After District Attorney Robert Morgenthau consented to vacate the convictions in December 2002, the NYPD commissioned an independent panel to investigate the police procedures and the events that led to the convictions of the Central Park 5. The panel found no evidence that the confessions were coerced, nor did it find any misconduct on the part of the police. Critics of the investigation weren't surprised by the findings.

The detectives who interviewed the teens in 1989 have admitted to using the same methods while questioning the young teens that they used while questioning adults. Does that alone present a problem? You can come to your own conclusions regarding coercion by watching the real Central Park 5 confessions below.



Was the Central Park 5 case entirely about racism?

No. When They See Us interprets the complex racial politics surrounding the case by filtering them through today's current cultural climate, making the story a searing tale of racial injustice. In the miniseries, the five boys—Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise and Antron McCray—were imprisoned because white people in positions of power could only see them as violent criminals. In reality, both whites and blacks across the nation and in positions of power saw them as guilty. This included one of the arresting officers in the case, Eric Reynolds, and the soon-to-be New York City mayor, David N. Dinkins.

In order to amplify the accusations of racism surrounding the case, the miniseries presents a highly inaccurate depiction of the mob in Central Park and a downplaying with regard to the brutality of their crimes. In reality, it was these other violent assaults that the large group of teens committed on joggers, bicyclists and other pedestrians that made the police certain that the same mob was responsible for the assault and rape of Trisha Meili. It was the most logical conclusion. Yet, this connection is given little attention in the miniseries so that the story can be solely centered around racial injustice. The teens were picked up because of the color of their skin and convicted because of a racist system, the series asserts. The reality is that things weren't nearly that "black and white." 37 teens were interviewed regarding their activities in the park that night, 10 were arrested (mainly because they were named by others), and several in addition to the Central Park 5 gave videotaped confessions (Armstrong Report). There's also plenty of disputed evidence and details that are conveniently not explored in the miniseries.

The Head of Sex Crimes, Linda Fairstein, Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer, and the detectives, including the late Michael Sheehan, have maintained that the Central Park 5 are guilty of the charges (Fairstein agreed with the decision to vacate the rape convictions but not the convictions for other assaults), and director Ava DuVernay in turn paints them as racists and villains in the series. Yet, there are many people who still believe the Central Park 5 took part in assaults in the park, including the attack on Trisha Meili, and it can't just be reasoned that they are all racists. After all, one of these individuals is the arresting officer in the case, Eric Reynolds, who believes his name was conveniently left out of the Five's lawsuit against the city, for the sole reason that he is black and it would contradict their fictional narrative of racial injustice.

In real life, there is no evidence that the arrests or the convictions were the direct result of racism or a racist justice system, as both the miniseries and the Ken Burns' documentary assert (the documentary mistakenly blames racism and income inequality for the convictions). The convictions of the Central Park 5 were the direct result of their confessions and indirectly the result of the media hysteria surrounding the case. It was the media, not Fairstein or the detectives, who injected racism into the narrative. The black and Hispanic teens were put on the level of animals as the media dubbed them a roving "wolfpack" who were "wilding" and "preying" on people in the park.

"Within the first two weeks of this case, there was 400 articles written about us," says Raymond Santana, one of the Central Park 5. "It was painting this picture. It was criminalizing us early in people's minds. All the headlines that they read, "Wilding, Wolfpack, Urban Terrorists," it made New Yorkers turn their backs on us. It made them be fed up and say, 'You know what, these kids probably did that.' ... And so, it created this narrative where it just made people turn their backs on us, and we became the most hated children in America" (WVEE Interview).


"It's the language of lynching from Jim Crow," said Ken Burns of the media's headlines, "not the language of a progressive, modern city in the late 20th century" (George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight).

Rhetoric from activists and celebrities like Al Sharpton and Donald Trump contributed to the media hysteria, further polarizing the public. The trial became all about race, which took the focus off the actual evidence, or lack thereof, that might have freed the teens.



Did Antron McCray's father abandon the family?

Yes. "My father, as the trial came, he left me and my mother. Disappeared," said McCray in the 2012 Ken Burns documentary. "I couldn't understand, and I just, I hated him after that. Me and my mother started going to court by ourselves." In researching the When They See Us real story, we discovered that unlike what's seen in the miniseries, the real Antron McCray never forgave his father (When They See Us Now).



Who came up with the term "wilding"?

It's true that the term "wilding" first became popular after the Central Park attacks on April 19, 1989. The Ken Burns' documentary The Central Park Five asserts that the term was coined by the police to portray the teens as animal-like savages who were on a violent rampage in the park. It has been reasoned that the term was possibly a somewhat intentional misunderstanding of a detainee's reference to "wilin'," which was slang for "hanging out." In a Talks at Google interview, Korey Wise said that he believes that officers heard teens in the holding cells singing Tone Loc's rap song "Wild Thing" and misunderstood what they were singing, interpreting it as "wilding."

When the media heard that teens in the precinct's cells had been singing the song, they implied that the teens must have been singing about raping the female jogger, since doing the "Wild Thing" is a euphemism for sex. Wise said that the song was nothing malicious and that the media turned it into a negative. This is especially true if the teens had nothing to do with the attack on the female jogger.

Eric Reynolds, the arresting officer in the Central Park 5 case, says that the notion that the police coined the term is absolutely false. "Just for the record, because I know that this was part of the documentary, that we, and even [more so] Ken Burns was talking about me, made up the term wilding to make it seem like they were urban marauders and savages, and they're animals, and all this stuff. That is complete bulls**t. I never heard the word 'wilding' until April 19, 1989 when we asked them, 'What the hell are you doin'?', and they said, 'Yeah, we were out wilding. We decided to go wilding.'" -SCCC



Did Donald Trump really take out a full-page ad calling for the death penalty to be brought back for the Central Park 5?

As depicted in Episode 2, it's true that Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in The New York Times and three other local newspapers. It cost him $85,000. The large headline at the top of the ad read, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" The ad came just 10 days after the Central Park assaults, including the rape of 28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili. Trump has never disputed that the April 19, 1989 attacks are what triggered him to place the ad. However, he never directly mentions the Central Park 5 in the ad. He only alludes to them when he talks about "roving bands of wild criminals ... dispensing their own vicious brand of twisted hatred." He also doesn't mention the jogger by name either.

Responding to the ad in the miniseries, the mother of one of the defendants states, "That devil wants to kill my son. You gonna take an ad out about killing my son?" The truth is that Trump's ad, which can be viewed in full below, only called for the death penalty against those who commit murder. In talking about such criminals, his exact words were, "I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes." By the time he ran his ad, Trisha Meili was expected to survive. He knew the Central Park 5 weren't murderers, whether they were guilty or not. He did not call for the execution of anyone in particular, including singling out the Central Park 5 for the death penalty, as the miniseries and many in the media have claimed. What he did do was emphasize that if the death penalty was brought back, "others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence." That was the point of his ad.


If Trump's ad was as bad as the miniseries would have us believe, then why didn't papers like The New York Times or the Daily News object to running it? Like the rest of the country, Trump was reacting to what he was reading in the newspaper and seeing on TV at the time. It had been reported that the teens had confessed.



Are the Central Park jogger's injuries portrayed accurately in the miniseries?

Initially in the miniseries, we don't see much of Trisha Meili (Alexandra Templer) until after she's out of the hospital and appearing at the trial. It's true that she walked into the courtroom with an unsteady gate. In the series fourth and final episode, we see her being attacked during flashbacks. Her injuries, which are described in the series, seem pretty accurate, if not downplayed somewhat. She was indeed barely alive when two men discovered her lying unconscious and naked in a ravine at 1:30 a.m. on April 20, roughly four hours after when she is believed to have been attacked. Meili had been raped and her body had been brutally beaten. "They didn't know if she would survive," said Dr. Bob Kurtz, a surgeon who treated her.

Dr. Jane Haher, a plastic surgeon who worked on Meili, said that she has never seen anyone whose body looked that bad. "I have seen traumatized patients many, many times. But I have never seen somebody, like, destroyed. Her body was just so swollen -- unrecognizable, really." Haher said that Meili's cheek bone near her left eye had been severely crushed in. She had been struck so hard in the face that her eyeball had exploded into the thin plates of her orbital floor and was hanging out of the socket. She also had several skull fractures, deep lacerations, and had lost three-quarters of her blood. -20/20

"To see the impressions of fingers, just fingers on both of her thighs, and on her calves," recalled Dr. Haher in 2003. "I just remember standing there, and thinking of the horror of rape, of thinking of some people holding her down while somebody raped her. I mean to me, just the whole sanctity of the person, the sacredness of a person was violated that day." -NBC Katie Couric Interview

The DA's homicide division was initially put on Meili's case because the doctors thought she wouldn't survive the night. It was later determined that the thing that saved her life was the cool mud that she had been laying in, which surrounded her head and kept her brain from swelling too much. She remained in a coma for ten days before she woke up. 


The Central Park jogger Trisha Meili was brutally beaten and raped. This is an image her blood-soaked white shirt after the attack.



Did Korey Wise and Matias Reyes really fight over the TV at Rikers Island?

According to the true story behind When They See Us, Korey Wise and Matias Reyes did get into a fight that came to blows when they were both incarcerated at Rikers Island in 1990. The miniseries portrays it as Wise getting mad at Reyes for turning down the volume on the TV. In real life, both Wise and Reyes said that they argued over what to watch on TV that night. -The Daily Beast

However, a more plausible possibility put forth by the arresting officer in the Central Park case, Eric Reynolds, is that the fight at Rikers was over the fact that Korey Wise was upset that he was taking the fall for the rape and Matias Reyes had gotten away with it. This actually makes sense given that in Wise's initial statements to detectives, he placed Reyes at the scene of the rape when he said that "Rudy" had taken the female jogger's Walkman and fanny pack. Due to the fact that Wise is hard of hearing, it is believed that he mistakenly thought Reyes' name was Rudy. It would have been impossible for detectives to coerce such a statement from Wise because they didn't even know about Matias Reyes' involvement at the time, nor did they know that the female jogger had a Walkman and a fanny pack.

This means that Wise and Reyes would have known who each other were at the time of the fight at Rikers, including each other's involvement in the attack on the Central Park jogger. This scenario makes far more sense. Yet, When They See Us wants us to believe that out of the roughly 18,000 inmates at Rikers Island at the time, there was a random argument over a TV between two strangers, both of whom just happened to be connected to the female jogger. The chance of that happening is approximately 1 in 18,000 or 0.00005555555%. -Police Off the Cuff



Does DNA evidence prove that the Central Park 5 didn't assault Trisha Meili?

No. 13 years after arrests of the Central Park 5, the media proclaimed in 2002 that they had been exonerated because of DNA evidence linking Puerto Rico-born Matias Reyes to the jogger case. The problem is that DNA evidence wasn't what convicted the teens in the first place, so it couldn't exonerate them. It was always known that the small sample of semen recovered from the jogger's cervix and the larger sample recovered from her sock didn't match the Central Park 5. The investigators always believed that there was another attacker still on the loose. The DNA simply proved that Reyes was that person. The issue after Reyes confessed to the crime was whether he was telling the truth about being the sole attacker.

From today's forensic standards, DNA from the five teens should have been found on Trisha Meili's body and the crime scene, in addition to Meili's DNA being found on them. This includes finding Kevin Richardson's DNA under Meili's fingernails if she had indeed scratched him. However, DNA testing was in its very early stages in 1989 (a nationwide DNA database didn't exist until 1994). The police wouldn't have aggressively sought out that evidence back then, nor would the crime scene have been preserved for DNA evidence (it was only several months earlier that DNA had first been admitted in a New York state court).

More importantly, the fact that Trisha Meili was dying when she was found meant that saving her life took precedence over the police being allowed to preserve evidence on her body. The medical staff would have cleaned her body in order to examine and search for wounds. Also, the teens' hands weren't bagged at the time of their arrests, which is normal procedure today to preserve DNA evidence (Meili wasn't discovered until hours later). Therefore, DNA evidence couldn't prove whether Meili was attacked by a group or one individual. The semen collected was only able to prove that Matias Reyes, who was 18 at the time of the rape, was the only one who ejaculated in the victim and on her sock.

It was instead Matias Reyes' confession that he acted alone which had the biggest influence on why the convictions of Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise were vacated. That, combined with the fact that there was no irrefutable physical evidence linking any of the five to the crime scene.



Did Korey Wise really have a transgender sister who was murdered?

Yes. Born Norman Wise, Korey's brother transitioned to female and changed her name to Marci. She is portrayed by transgender actress and model Isis King in When They See Us. It's true that Marci died while Korey was in prison, but there is no record of the details surrounding her death. Such information can be difficult to track as a result of the police reporting the wrong name for her. Director Ava DuVernay said that she spoke extensively with the family and included Marci as a way to honor her. Isis King told Oxygen, "I know she was murdered," but "I don't want to speculate." Korey has never spoken publicly about his sister Marci.


Transgender actress Isis King portrays Korey Wise's sister Marci in When They See Us.



Was Korey Wise raised by a single mother?

No. When They See Us omits Korey's father, who had actually been present in Korey's life when Korey was arrested and convicted. His father didn't pass away from cancer until 1996 while Korey was in prison. As portrayed in the series, Korey's sister Marci also passed away while he was incarcerated.

"How my mother Deloris Wise was portrayed wasn’t the mother I was raised with because she is an outspoken & a very supportive mother," said Korey's sister Vanity in an Instagram post. Vanity, who is also transgender, criticized director Ava DuVernay's decision to include the scene where her mother disapproves of Marci's transition to female.



Did Matias Reyes commit the assault and rape of Trisha Meili alone?

This is what serial rapist Matias Reyes stated in his 2002 confession. Though some questionable evidence existed, no solid evidence was found that directly placed any of the Central Park 5 where Trisha Meili's battered body was found. Like in the miniseries, the ground markings at the scene showed that one person, not a group, had dragged Meili from the path to the underbrush. If it was one person, we know it had to be Reyes because his DNA matched the DNA found on both Meili and her sock.

Reyes had committed a string of rapes, attempted rapes, and one rape-murder around the time of his 1989 attack on Trisha Meili in Central Park. In fact, he had raped another woman in the park just two days before he raped Meili. In total, he raped more than five women and raped and murdered Lourdes Gonzalez, who was pregnant at the time. After forcing his way into Gonzalez's apartment, he stabbed her nine times in the chest and stomach, and once in the face, as her three children listened from outside the bedroom door.

Survivors say that after raping them, Reyes would give them a choice of their lives or their sight, subsequently stabbing them in the eyes so they couldn't identify him in a lineup. Like most rapists, he always committed the attacks alone, which provides further support that he was alone while attacking Trisha Meili. The alternative doesn't fit his m.o. Reyes was captured on August 5, 1989 after raping a woman in her apartment. She was able to escape and flee down three flights of steps, alerting other residents who confronted Reyes in the lobby and held him down until police arrived. -Newsweek

Though DNA tied Reyes to the rape, it doesn't rule out the possibility that others had assaulted Meili before he found her and dragged her into the woods. One issue with Reyes' confession is that he is a violent psychopath and a pathological liar (a defense psychiatrist concluded that Reyes was not capable of telling the truth). Justice Galligan, who presided over Reyes' 1991 murder/rape trial, was quoted as saying, "[I]f Reyes is a credible witness, then credibility has a new meaning" (Daily News). The surgeon who led the team who treated Meili, Dr. Bob Kurtz, said that Meili's severe head wounds were not solely the result of being struck with a tree branch, as Reyes claimed he used. A much sharper object made some of the wounds, which Reyes never said he used. In an effort to not cause any more controversy for the city, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau prevented the police from interrogating Reyes and instead recommended that the convictions of the Central Park 5 be vacated.



Did Raymond Santana really go back to jail on a drug charge?

Yes. The When They See Us true story confirms that Santana blames not being able to find a job and being institutionalized for why he started dealing drugs. Police arrested him in December 1998 after they found crack in his apartment (New York Times). He received an extended sentence because he was already a convicted felon.

"I was serving three and a half to seven years on a drug charge," said Santana of when he learned about Matias Reyes coming forward and confessing to the rape. "I was so institutionalized by this time that I felt they just gonna make this dude the sixth man, and they gonna sweep it under the rug, and that's it." -VladTV



Does the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, believe that Matias Reyes was her sole attacker?

No. "I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA," Meili told 20/20. "So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn't a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that's when some of the turmoil started, wondering, 'Well, how can that be?'" Meili says that the medical evidence supports that there was more than one attacker and the doctors who treated her agree.

In 2002, Surgeon Bob Kurtz said that in examining the massive injuries all over her body, it would have been close to impossible for one person to do all of that (Daily News). Kurtz also said that "there were hand prints pressed into her skin [including on her thighs and lower legs] that looked red in outline," and plastic surgeon Jane Haher noted that the hand prints were of different sizes, which indicated that more than one person had held on to her and caused the injuries to her body (ABC News).

These statements raise significant doubt around the notion that Reyes committed the assault by himself. However, this could also mean that the mob of teens assaulted/sexually assaulted Meili and left her injured, after which Matias Reyes moved in, dragged her into the underbrush, assaulted her further and committed the rape.

Trisha Meili revealed her identity to the world with the release of her bestselling book I Am the Central Park Jogger.



Does When They See Us omit evidence against the teens?

Yes. The evidence and details listed below appeared in the 2003 Armstrong Report. Some were also presented at the trials. Critics of the 43-page report, which was initiated by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and chaired by former federal prosecutor Michael Armstrong, argued that the report has no legal standing and was simply a rebuttal to Assistant DA Nancy Ryan's motion to vacate the convictions. However, Michael Armstrong was hardly partial to the NYPD. He had previously been chief counsel on the Knapp Commission in the 1970s, which investigated appalling police corruption (his star witness was Frank Serpico).

The Armstrong Report includes a number of other details not listed below.

  • Semen, dirt, and grass stains that were found on Kevin Richardson's underwear (it was argued that the presence of semen on the crotch of his underwear was consistent with the confessions that they were unable to ejaculate while attempting to rape Trisha Meili). Semen stains were also found on Antron McCray's underwear and Raymond Santana's sweatshirt.
  • Mud was found caked on the front of Antron McCray's Calvin Klein jeans and hooded sweatshirt. The jogger was found with mud and dirt all over her body. Antron said that he fell in the mud while running from the police and then hid there.
  • Korey Wise had washed his clothes when he got home on the night of the attacks.
  • Blood stains were found on Raymond Santana's right sneaker, Yusef Salaam's jacket, and on Steve Lopez's underwear. The traces on Santana's sneaker and Salaam's jacket were too small to match to the blood types of the victims.
  • Korey Wise's friend's older sister, Melody Jackson, told investigators on the eve of the trial that Wise had confessed to her that he did not rape Trisha Meili but rather held and fondled her leg during the attack (Wise grabbing the victim's leg is in line with what both the surgeon and plastic surgeon observed at the hospital, red outlines of different-sized hand prints on her thighs and lower legs).
  • As officers were taking Clarence Thomas and Kevin Richardson to the precinct, Thomas began to cry and blurted out, "I know who did the murder. I know where he lives and I'll tell you his name." Richardson said that he knew as well and agreed to give them the name. Then Thomas said that it was Antron McCray. According to the officers, Richardson agreed and said, "Yeah. That's who did it." This was before the female jogger was found.
  • Detective Michael Sheehan reported that while he was transporting Raymond Santana from the Central Park Precinct to the 20th Precinct, Santana on his own said, "I had nothing to do with the rape. All I did was feel the woman's t--s." This was prior to the police knowing about the rape.
  • Yusef Salaam admitted to carrying a metal pipe during the evening and stated that he was holding onto it for someone else. Jogger John Loughlin, who was seriously injured, was beaten with a pipe.
  • During the booking process, Officer Robert Powers said that when he told the defendants they shouldn't be out beating people, but "should be home with your girlfriends," Raymond Santana looked at a co-defendant, smiled, and remarked, "I already got mines," after which they both laughed. The statement was inadmissible in court because it wasn't preceded by a waiver of Miranda rights.
  • When Korey (then Kharey) Wise visited the scene on April 20th with a detective and an assistant district attorney, he remarked, "Damn, damn that's a lot of blood. Damn, this is really bad, that’s a lot of blood.... I knew she was bleeding, but I didn't know how bad she was. It was really dark. I couldn't see how much blood there was at night."
  • On April 20th, the day after the assault on Trisha Meili, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana supposedly each pointed out the location where the attack occurred. Detectives quoted Richardson as saying, "This is where we got her ... where the raping occurred."
  • Two of Korey Wise's friends, Ronald Williams and Shabazz Head, told the police that when they encountered Wise on April 20, 1989, he told them, "You heard about that woman that was beat up and raped in the park last night. That was us!"
  • Dennis Commedo, a boy who was part of the larger group in the park that night, reportedly told police that when he encountered Kevin Richardson in a ball field in the park, Richardson told him, "We just raped somebody."
  • Two teens who were part of the larger group said that they saw Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Steven Lopez, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and others coming over the hill from the 102nd Street transverse, the direction where the rape occurred.
  • When talking about first seeing the female jogger in his confession, Antron McCray said, "We didn't think it was a lady at first when we seen her. She looked like a man." That description is exactly what the two men who found her lying in the ravine four hours later told the police, that they thought she looked like a man. The confusion was due to her slender build and short hair. This connection is important because it's a detail that is far less likely to have been coerced.
  • Statements given by a number of other teens named the five as participating with them in other assaults in the park.
  • When Matias Reyes confessed in 2002, he revealed something that the police had not known initially. He said that he had stolen Trisha Meili's fanny pack and Walkman, which had not been found at the scene. Yet, in notes from an interview with Korey Wise on April 20, 1989, the day after the attack, Wise said that a guy named "Rudy" took Meili's "Walkman pouch" and Walkman. Investigators believed that Wise, who is hard of hearing, had gotten Reyes' name wrong and thought it was Rudy.
  • A former inmate-acquaintance of Matias Reyes claimed that Reyes told him that the attack on the jogger was already happening when he joined, attracted to the location by the jogger's screams.
  • The Armstrong Report concluded that "the most likely scenario for the events of April 19, 1989 was that the defendants came up on the jogger and subjected her to the same kind of attack, albeit with sexual overtones, that they inflicted upon other victims in the park that night. Perhaps attracted to the scene by the jogger's screams, Reyes either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants had moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death." 



What proof is there that the Central Park 5 are innocent?

  • The confession of serial rapist Matias Reyes that he acted alone is the most powerful piece of evidence, and is what led to the convictions of the Central Park 5 being vacated.
  • Drag marks to the final scene of the crime showed that there was only one attacker who pulled Trisha Meili.
  • The five's claims of coercion, which were put forth by the defense lawyers at the trial (the claims became more accepted after Reyes' confession). Coercion was possible given that the teens' parents were at times not present while they were questioned.
  • As they gave their initial statements to police, the teens likely weren't fully aware that they should be invoking their rights, asking for a lawyer, or abstaining from making the statements.
  • Police used regular interrogation tactics on kids - two fourteen-year-olds, two fifteen-year-olds, and one sixteen-year-old.
  • In his previous rapes and attempted rapes, Matias Reyes had always acted alone.
  • The Central Park 5's videotaped confessions are at times inconsistent, including with regard to the clothing Trisha Meili wore, the location of the crime, and the crime itself.
  • The Central Park 5 had never been arrested before.
  • The confessions are consistent with the teens' claims that the detectives coerced them into implicating each other. Possible evidence of this is that some of the teens did not know one another prior to being arrested.
  • Victims in the other assaults never identified the Central Park 5 as being assailants (however, a total of 19 people were suspected in the violent attack on John Loughlin alone. According to The New York Times, he managed to identify one, Jermaine Robinson, after seeing him on a TV news program. "It was the kid who spoke to me," Loughlin said at the trial).
  • The Central Park 5 refused to accept plea deals that could have resulted in lighter sentences.



Did serial rapist Matias Reyes confess to the rape of the Central Park jogger because he'd found Jesus?

This is what Matias Reyes claimed after he crossed paths with Korey Wise for a second time in the prison system. He said that he could sense Wise's pain and he decided to confess because he had found Jesus Christ. This is the reasoning the miniseries goes with, but some researchers believe that Matias Reyes' confession was mostly self-serving. Others flat-out reject Reyes' come-to-Jesus moment, saying that it's ridiculous given that he was a serial rapist and murderer whose own defense attorney called him "a pure psychopath," in addition to the fact that he sexually assaulted his own mother and tried to rape a woman in a church.

Sarah Burns, who co-wrote and co-directed the documentary The Central Park Five with her father Ken Burns, found that Reyes' biggest motivation to confess was that he just wanted to be noticed. There is some evidence to support this. Reyes appeared in an interview on ABC's Primetime, and he also traveled back to the crime scene with NYPD detectives to show them how the events on the night of April 19, 1989 unfolded. "People were paying attention to him again," says Burns. -Daily News

Reyes knew that he could not be punished for the crime because the statute of limitations for rape in New York City was then seven years. He knew that he could come forward without doing any more time.

A more likely theory is that Reyes came forward after being moved to the prison's general population, because once there he was threatened by Wise and his prison gang (it was reported Wise had been a member of the Bloods gang and the Nation of Islam). Wise threatened him into confessing that he was Trisha Meili's sole attacker. The Armstrong Report cites two inmates who said that Reyes had in fact been threatened by Wise, but it doesn't offer much to verify the claim. For the most part, this only makes sense if Wise had already known that Reyes had raped Trisha Meili, which seems likely given statements made by Wise to the police after his arrest (as explained earlier). The report states that Reyes may have come forward so that he could get transferred to a different prison, away from Wise, which did happen after he confessed. Further supporting Reyes' fear of Wise is the fact that he demanded protection at the time he came forward.

Reece Noi (left) depicts Matias Reyes in Netflix's When They See Us confessing to the rape and assault of Trisha Meili. The real Matias Reyes (right) in 2002.



Are Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer portrayed accurately in When They See Us?

No. In the miniseries, Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) quickly arrives on the scene and takes charge of the investigation. In reality, Fairstein, who's set up to be the villain in the miniseries, wasn't even there the first day. Much of what she says in the miniseries, including her most racially charged comments, were never uttered in real life. She repeatedly calls the teens in the park "animals." She commands her detectives by saying, "I need the whole group. Every young black male who was in the park. You go into the projects and stop every motherf**** you see." The problem is that no one reported her as having said that then, in addition to many of the other inflammatory comments she makes in the series (this includes a semi-homophobic remark). Those scenes were imagined, as was much of the character.

This is one of the biggest problems with the series with regard to adhering to the true story. Creator and director Ava DuVernay has invented the incriminating comments sex-crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) makes, including her conversations with Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga). We found no reports that anyone had ever witnessed these bigoted comments or heard such conversations taking place. Yet, almost immediately after the miniseries debuted, an outcry online led to the real Linda Fairstein, who now writes crime novels, to be dropped by her publisher. In addition, she lost her seats on the board of trustees at Vasser College, her alma mater, and on the boards of sex crime victim advocacy groups the Joyful Heart Foundation and Safe Horizon. Her reputation has been ruined.

First, the good about Fairstein's career. Fairstein's work as the head of the sex-crimes unit garnered her numerous honors, as she was instrumental in giving such crimes the prominence they deserve. She helped to give women who were raped a voice in their own cases by seeing that archaic laws that required another witness to testify be thrown out. She was also one of the first prosecutors to introduce DNA evidence in court (CBS Sunday Morning). She earned the nickname "Hell on Heels" for her success at prosecuting rape cases. The impact of her unit even inspired Dick Wolf to create the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Felicity Huffman (left) as Linda Fairstein in Netflix's When They See Us, and the real Linda Fairstein (right).

The internet has stripped her of her accolades and she's effectively been "cancelled." At least that was the goal of the Twitter hashtag "#CancelLindaFairstein". In addition, an online petition was signed by more than 75,000 to push retailers to stop selling her children's books and mystery novels. When asked about the Fairstein backlash on Oprah Winfrey's When They See Us Now after show, director Ava DuVernay said that "people have to be held accountable" (both Oprah Winfrey and Robert De Niro were executive producers on the miniseries). Yet, DuVernay, who also wrote the screenplay, had no idea what actually went on behind the scenes during the prosecution of the Central Park jogger case, which Fairstein oversaw. In the series, conversations are imagined and words are put into Fairstein's mouth that she never actually uttered.

In 2002, Fairstein told The New Yorker, "I think Reyes ran with that pack of kids. He stayed longer when the others moved on. He completed the assault. I don't think there is a question in the minds of anyone present during the interrogation process that these five men were participants ... I watched more than 30 detectives — black, white, Hispanic guys who'd never met each other before — conduct a brilliant investigation." Fairstein's opinion, even today, that the Central Park 5 were involved in the attack on Trisha Meili is undoubtedly another reason that DuVernay cast her as a villain.

Letting public opinion effectively decide the fate of someone's life is doing exactly what DuVernay claims to be railing against with her miniseries. DuVernay's trial-by-fiction has helped to convince the media, the public, and the original Central Park 5 that Fairstein is the villain. "Even though it's 30 years later, she has to pay for her crime," said Raymond Santana. What many fail to understand is that we're watching a dramatized account. Many of the same people who cry out, "Of course not everything is going to be true. It's entertainment!", are in this case destroying two women because they believe everything in the series is true.

"It's like mob justice. People are doing everything they can to destroy these women's lives and they've done nothing wrong," says Eric Reynolds, who arrested two of the Central Park 5. "[People] don't even know that they're not basing their opinions and their fury on what actually happened. If they knew what actually happened they would be ashamed of themselves. Don't come back for revenge and destroy two people who were only doing their job and did nothing wrong. Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer did absolutely nothing wrong." Since speaking out after the miniseries debut, Reynolds himself has been called a race traitor, but he says that he spoke out because "the truth matters." -Daily Mail

It's certainly fair to levy some degree of criticism on Linda Fairstein for her handling of the case and her lack to look beyond the logical conclusions that she and the detectives drew based on the other brutal assaults committed by the mob in the park that night. Their shortsightedness and rush for a conviction possibly allowed serial rapist Matias Reyes to remain on the loose to commit more horrific crimes, including the rape and murder of 24-year-old Lourdes Gonzalez, a pregnant mother of three.

Investigators found and collected one person's DNA from the scene of the Central Park rape, yet they never bothered to test it against the DNA of serial rapist Matias Reyes when he was captured several months later. Fairstein defended this by saying, "God knows I wish we had databanks of DNA that long ago, because we would have connected him." That still doesn't mean it was impossible to make the connection. Instead, they seemed satisfied that they had caught the right suspects, yet they knew that none of five's DNA matched the semen found on Trisha Meili. This failure to continue to pursue all possibilities potentially sent five teens to prison for a rape they didn't commit, costing them more than a decade of their lives, in addition to suffering from the mental, physical, and societal effects of being incarcerated.

The police department's failure to connect the Central Park jogger to serial rapist Matias Reyes arguably led to the murder of Lourdes Gonzalez.

When They See Us unfairly blames this all on racism. It might create a better story that today's hypersensitive audience's are more eager to devour and react to, but it's not the truth. For example, Fairstein faced far less backlash after Sarah and Ken Burn's widely viewed and slightly more accurate 2012 documentary The Central Park Five. In the years following its release, Fairstein continued to promote her books on talk shows, including Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014 and CBS This Morning in 2017. Why? Because the documentary stuck closer to the facts, albeit from the perspectives of the five. It placed blame on Fairstein for how she handled the case, but it didn't reason that this was mainly due to her being a racist. There's no evidence of that. Yet, it's largely why she has been the target of public outrage after the release of the miniseries.

As for Elizabeth Lederer (pictured below), who was equally fictionalized and misrepresented, she still works in the District Attorney's office, but the backlash from the series has caused her to resign from her adjunct teaching position at Columbia University in New York after harassment from students. In addition, the Columbia Black Law Students Association launched a petition demanding her resignation. Some have argued that she was simply doing her job as an attorney (assistant DA), while others argue that her involvement in coming up with the strategy to implicate all five, based on their often inconsistent confessions pointing the blame at each other, makes her partially responsible as well.

Elizabeth Lederer (right) was the lead prosecutor on the Central Park jogger case. Vera Farmiga (left) portrays Lederer in Netflix's When They See Us.



Were the Central Park 5 cleared of the charges for which they had been incarcerated?

No. The When They See Us true story reveals that the Central Park 5 were never cleared. Instead, the convictions were vacated, which means that the earlier trials and convictions were treated as if they never happened. This is different from the five being cleared (or exonerated) of the charges in court. Prosecutors could have retried them for the charges, but the city saw no reason to since they had already served their time. In addition, the case against the five would have been weaker after Matias Reyes came forward and stated that he acted alone.



Does the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, agree with the $41 million settlement that the city made with the Central Park 5?

No. "I so wish the case hadn't been settled," Meili told 20/20 in early 2019. "I wish that it had gone to court because there's a lot of information that's now being released that I'm seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors. ... They treated me with such dignity and respect."

In the wake of the Sarah and Ken Burns documentary, newly-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio decided that New York City should settle the case. In addition to the $41 million given to the Central Park 5 by the city in the June 2014 settlement, they also sued the state of New York and were given an additional $3.9 million.



Have the Central Park 5 met Trisha Meili?

No. The Central Park 5 have been critical of Trisha Meili for her stance that more than one person attacked her, which in turn points the finger back at the five, whose convictions were vacated in 2002. Some of the men have expressed sympathy for what she went through and said that they are still open to meeting with her. However, they said that they are waiting for her to reach out to them.

The When They See Us real people (bottom) vs. the actors who portray them as adults (top). From left to right: Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana.



Overall, how accurate is When They See Us?

After conducting weeks of research, we have given When They See Us a Reality Score of 5 out of 10. Like the documentary The Central Park Five, the Netflix miniseries distorts the true story by blaming racial injustice on why the five teens were arrested and convicted. In reality, the other assaults in the park, witness statements, their own admissions, and evidence were the reasons for their arrests and convictions. The media hysteria around the case is mainly what introduced racism into the narrative. The miniseries turning Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Lederer and others into racist villains is not only inaccurate, their fictional portrayals have led to a social media backlash that has largely ruined their lives.

Director Ava DuVernay's miniseries was based mostly on Ken Burn's documentary, which was spearheaded by his daughter Sarah. She had worked as a paralegal for the law firm that filed the Central Park 5's lawsuit against the city. Ken Burns admitted that one goal of the documentary was to pressure the city to settle the lawsuit. In a Times Talks interview, Burns said that he chose not to have a narrator so that the documentary would be less biased. However, he instead has the Central Park 5 narrate much of the documentary themselves, and he includes no interviews with the prosecutors, detectives, or even the victim herself (Burns defends this by saying he asked them but they weren't allowed due to the lawsuit, and as for Trisha Meili, she turned down the request). This in turn makes it entirely one sided. Like in the miniseries it inspired, evidence and details are left unexplored, and the arrests and convictions are interpreted as a searing tale of racial injustice. This works great for the miniseries as a work of fiction, but it does a disservice to the truth and those involved.

As much as the miniseries' fiction has made pariahs of the real-life Fairstein and Lederer, it has made martyrs of the Central Park 5, vindicating them of any wrongdoing. This is largely how the public will view the story from now on, as history written by Hollywood, a piece of entertainment that ignites so much righteous indignation in us that it must be the truth. Yet, once again, we've been duped.



Central Park 5 Confessions and Interviews

Expand your knowledge of the real story by watching the full confessions of the Central Park 5, which were taken by Assistant DA Elizabeth Lederer on the second day following the assaults in the park. Also view an interview with the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, and watch an interview with the five as adults.