Adams's testimony was a major departure from the line the prosecution had spun. Answering Joseph's questions, the FBI expert said that while there was no DNA match with the blood samples from any of the defendants or possible suspects in the wilding, or the sample from the jogger's boyfriend, some firm conclusions could be made. True, there was no match, Adams said, but all 14 of the DNA samples could be excluded as belonging to the person or persons who penetrated the victim in Central Park that night. Answering Joseph's questions matter-of-factly, the FBI expert explained that in DNA testing, it is easier to exclude than to match. He said the weak pattern obtained from the cervix and the stronger pattern found on the sock, though not as complete as needed for a match, were nonetheless clear and strong enough to determine that they definitely did not belong to any of the 14 people whose blood was tested.

The prosecution had known all along that the tests were not "inconclusive." They knew the results proved that the semen could not have come from any of the five defendants. And yet the prosecution stayed mute.

Adams revealed one more thing on the stand that the prosecution had never told the public: The FBI lab had compared the semen from the cervix and the semen from the sock—and they were from the same person. "They seemed to match," he said clearly.

illustration: Yuan Lee

In hindsight, the FBI disclosures should have exploded a bomb in the heart of the prosecution case. But the testimony set off no fireworks. The disturbing confessions were what had captured the minds of the jury—and the press.

What Adams's testimony meant was that only one person, still at large, had ejaculated inside the victim while keeping in mind that since some rapists are not able to function sexually during the attack, the possibility that both Reyes and a temporarily impotent group assaulted her cannot be absolutely ruled out. (The police have lately been searching for possible evidence of a link between Reyes and the five who were convicted.)

But the theory of the crime that the hard, forensic evidence most supports is that the group of five, or some of them, took no part, or no significant part, in the sexual assault. This raises the further possibility or likelihood, as counter-intuitive as this may seem given the confessions, that the five defendants were indeed "coerced" as the law defines the word—which would support their charges that they were intimidated, fed details about the rape, told that their friends had informed on them, and prodded with subtle hints that if they confessed about the others they would help themselves.

Penetration of the victim is a corollary legal issue here. Under the law, penetration is necessary before the crime of sexual assault rises to that of rape. In the case of a group of attackers, penetration by only one person (though, again, not necessarily ejaculation) is enough to implicate the rest of a group in a rape. Otherwise, in this case, the five could only be charged with other crimes committed during the wilding. The indictments did charge them with several other crimes, such as assault, robbery, and riot, but the pivot of the prosecution's case—and the primary focus—was always the rape.

At the same time, it is important to remember, in any examination of the public record of this flawed investigation and prosecution, that even if these five youths, or at least some of them, were not guilty of rape or sexual assault, they were not innocents—having been convicted of a whole series of other crimes committed in the rampage that night. One need only recall that among those crimes, two men, John Loughlin and Antonio Diaz, were horribly beaten and left bleeding and unconscious.

Timothy Sullivan, then the editor of Manhattan Lawyer and now news editor of the Courtroom Television Network, wrote a book in 1992 titled Unequal Verdicts, the most authoritative account of the trials and the case as it stood at that point.

Sullivan's book provides most of the now-forgotten details, and he goes behind the scenes a lot. He recounts several instances where the pressure and urgency felt by the prosecution showed through. Here are two of them.

(1) Sullivan writes that Elizabeth Lederer, a respected Assistant District Attorney whom Linda Fairstein had named as lead attorney for the trials, was fully aware of all the pieces the prosecution was missing, one of which was proof or a statement that penetration had taken place. The following excerpt shows some of Lederer's questioning of Raymond Santana on videotape. Santana has told her that Kevin Richardson, 14, was the only one he had seen "having sex" with the victim.

"Did he penetrate her?" she asked, referring to Richardson. "Did he put his penis inside of her?" "Um hmm," he confirmed. "Did he say that he had?" "No, he didn't say it." Santana scoffed. "But you could tell?" "Yeah." "How could you tell?" "Because he was havin' sex with her! That's what you're supposed to do when you havin' sex!"

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