Magazine article Newsweek

Reversing the Verdict: With New Evidence, Manhattan Prosecutors Seek to Overturn Convictions in the Central Park Jogger Case

Magazine article Newsweek

Reversing the Verdict: With New Evidence, Manhattan Prosecutors Seek to Overturn Convictions in the Central Park Jogger Case

Article excerpt

Byline: Peg Tyre

It sounded like an airtight confession. "I grabbed one arm," said Antron McCray, then 15. "And we grabbed her legs and stuff. Then we got a bunch of turns getting on her, like getting on top of her." Back in 1990, those words helped to convince a Manhattan jury that McCray and four other Harlem teenagers were guilty of a brutal crime--the rape and near-fatal beating of a 28-year-old white investment banker who was jogging in Central Park. But last week New York prosecutors asked a judge to vacate those convictions. An imprisoned serial rapist, Matias Reyes, admitted that he raped the jogger, and DNA evidence backed him up. Now the case, which 13 years ago became a symbol of urban crime and stoked racial tensions in New York City, has raised some uncomfortable questions about false confessions. Four of the five teens made lengthy videotaped statements. While some investigators have suggested Reyes may have worked in tandem with the youths or raped the jogger after the teens assaulted her, prosecutors now believe that the teens were simply telling the police what the cops wanted to hear.

Legal experts say such false confessions do happen. And DNA testing, which has been key in reversing hundreds of wrongful convictions, is highlighting the problem. According to Williams College psychology professor Saul Kassin, who has studied false confessions, 20 percent of those eventually cleared by DNA confessed to police. "There is," says Kassin, "a segment of the population--young people, those with low IQs or mental illness--who, under intense pressure, make false statements against themselves." In the jogger case, four of the teens made incriminating admissions, but their descriptions of the attack were incomplete, inaccurate and, at times, contradictory. Investigators who reviewed the case were careful not to suggest wrongdoing or coercion on the part of the police, although many questions remain about how and why the teens confessed. …

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