Thirteen years ago, five young boys were convicted for the rape of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park. Last night, Michael Warren, the defense attorney for the “Central Park Five,” spoke to an audience of families and Yale students about the continuing struggle for a fairer criminal justice system.
The speech, sponsored by the Yale Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, was part of a series of events associated with the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. Warren, who has also represented rappers Tupac Shakur and Sean “Puffy” Combs, began by laying out the details of the case and the trial.
In 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was raped and left with a fractured skull in Central Park. Warren said a media frenzy and several errors by the prosecutors involved in the case led to the wrongful conviction of five young black and Hispanic boys.
“The prosecutors implanted things within the minds of these young men,” Warren said. “The boys’ so-called confessions were absolutely bogus — There were fundamental differences between each boy’s statement.”
Warren also said the trial’s prosecutors were allowed to imply that there was scientific evidence — such as DNA samples — that supposedly proved the five boys were guilty. But none of the boys’ DNA samples matched those from the jogger’s sock or the rock from the crime scene. In fact, the rock used as evidence during the trial was not even the rock used in the crime, Warren said.
Last June, Matias Reyes, an already convicted serial rapist, confessed to the Central Park crime after a brief run-in with one of the Central Park Five in an upstate New York correctional facility. Reyes told Warren in an interview the rock he used to blind his victims was so large he used two hands to wield it. The rock prosecutors used in the 1989 trial was actually far smaller than the one Reyes described, Warren said.
Reyes also told Warren that when he met one of the Central Park Five, he could not live his lie any longer knowing that he had committed the crime. The five boys, whose prison terms added up to seven years, are no longer in prison and are currently trying to clear their names. Reyes’ DNA was the only match to the DNA found on the jogger’s sock. Now seeking monetary damages for the Central Park Five, Warren said he believes the boys and their “demoralized families” will be justly compensated.
Warren said he has learned the unfair ropes of the criminal justice system through this ongoing case. He said this case reflects the need for students today to promote social justice.
“Grass-roots organization has to be restored,” Warren said. “The issues have to be raised in the classrooms.”
Ameer El-Mallawany ’05 said Warren’s speech was “inspirational.”
“It’s good to know that powerful people stand up for justice,” El-Mallawany said.
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