Lederer persisted. "Well, when he was doing that, was he moving up and down?"

"Yeah," Santana replied and, rather than wait for her to ask again how he could tell, added: " 'Cause I seen it."

"And so you could see that he was moving," said Lederer, "thrusting up and down . . . thrusting into her?" "Yeah," said Santana. "That's how I knew he was havin' sex with her."

illustration: Yuan Lee

What leaps out from this interview is how Lederer, very frustrated, lapses into badgering to try to drag the information she needs out of him. Equally revealing is that Santana never actually says he saw Richardson's penis inside the victim.

(2) In late November 1990, on the ninth day of deliberations in the second trial—of the two remaining defendants, Kevin Richardson and Kharey Wise—the press and players anxiously awaited the verdict (which didn't come until December 11).

Sullivan writes:

"If we don't get a rape conviction," said Detective McKenna, "we lost the case." A reporter asked whether a conviction on attempted murder, technically a higher count, would not be considered a victory. No, said McKenna, it had to be a rape conviction. [Detective John] Taglioni nodded in agreement.

Today, none of the players are talking. The D.A.'s office says that the judge handling the reopening of the case, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada, has asked them to make no further public comments until the December 5 hearing before him, when Morgenthau will produce his report and make his recommendations.

One central unanswered question about the rape case falls completely on Morgenthau's office. Why didn't he and his people—when they received the FBI's final DNA results, just before the first of the two trials—ask the judge for a postponement? They could simply have told him they needed more time to identify and arrest the missing man they had now determined, from the semen tests, had penetrated the victim. The judge may have been annoyed with them and chewed on them a bit, but he would almost certainly have recognized the legitimacy of their request and granted it.

Matias Reyes has now confessed to being that missing man, and his DNA shows him to be right. He has also confessed to the rape and beating of another woman two days earlier—on April 17, 1989—in the same northern quadrant of the park. The authorities reportedly have tied Reyes to that April 17 rape as well.

Why, back in 1989, didn't the authorities look into a possible link between the April 17 and April 19 rapes? If they had, the April 17 victim, a 26-year-old woman who had full memory of the assault, could possibly have identified her attacker early on or provided other critical information.

Was it simply human oversight, to which we are all susceptible, or were they in too much of a hurry? Or was the D.A.'s office actually aware of the April 17 rape, which happened in daylight, and simply dismissed it as different in pattern?

In any event, the prosecutors cannot argue it wasn't right in front of their collective noses. On April 29, 1989, 10 days after the jogger rape, The New York Times ran a long story about the 28 other first-degree rapes or attempted rapes reported across New York City during the week of the Central Park crime. Fourth on the list was the following entry for April 17, now tied to Reyes.

3:30 P.M. As she walked through the northern reaches of Central Park on the East Side, a woman, 26, was hit in the face, robbed and raped. The suspect escaped.

It's not uncommon for criminal cases to have a few unknown elements, inconsistencies, or gray areas. But the jogger case was shot through with them. Portions of the defendants' statements, for example, were flat-out contradictions of the accounts given by their co-defendants.

If the authorities had just paused somewhere along the way and expanded the investigation to deal with some of these gaps, the case would likely have been turned upside down. What really explains the failure to delay the trials? Was it the pressure for quick results? Or the public embarrassment of having to admit gray areas and missing pieces after going too far? Whatever the explanation, the failure to pursue the loose ends surely altered the outcome.

Now there will be a second outcome. And a number of human dramas are playing out in the background.

The five convicted youths, now in their late twenties, and their families are obviously hoping their rape convictions will be set aside. They want to remove the stigma of being listed as sex criminals in the government registry and being required to report their whereabouts to the authorities every three months. They're surely also hoping their convictions on all the other charges—assault, robbery, attempted murder, and riot—will be vacated as well. City officials are bracing for huge damage suits should any of the counts be overturned. It bears repeating that, even if the five are found not guilty of involvement in the rape, we may never know the full story of what happened that night. It's not likely we'll hear any more confessions from the young men or any admissions of wrongdoing from the players on the prosecution side.

« Previous Page
Next Page »