Speculation Gone Wilding

Jogger Theories Defy the Realities of Reinvestigation

As Kevin Richardson's sister Angela Cuffee puts it, "When you live across the street from Central Park, is there a law that says you can't go to the park? Is there a law against going to the park because you're a young black man and something happened to other people?"

Reaction from the law enforcement community to the D.A.'s decision has ranged from unofficial outrage and anger to official disappointment. A spokesperson for the Detectives Endowment Association, the union for New York's detectives, said that the detectives did an outstanding job and that "it doesn't fare well when the district attorney takes the word of a convicted felon who is serving time over the testimony of detectives and videotapes of all their confessions." That outstanding detective work included compromising the hairs found on Richardson's clothing—75 percent of the forensic evidence against the teens—to contamination by spreading it on the precinct floor for photos before the evidence was removed. The reinvestigation concluded that none of the DNA from these hairs matches that of the victim.

"What the district attorney has done in the year 2002 could have been done in the year 1989," says Eric Seiff, counsel for Kharey Wise. "In the hysteria that swept the April 19th assaults, the police instinctively, with bias and prejudice, and without knowledge, arrived at a conclusion that led to a true miscarriage of justice. And these five young men, all in their teens, spent years of their lives in prison solely because the police made a predetermination before an investigation began and refused to be open-minded and reconsider what was out there for them to find because they would not allow for the possibility that they had erred."

Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam, after the D.A.'s report was released Thursday
photo: Julia Xanthos
Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam, after the D.A.'s report was released Thursday

In fact, it seems that the investigative process excluded anything that didn't fit the gang rape theory. According to former detective Mike Sheehan, who had connections to both the jogger case and the apprehension of Reyes, Reyes's DNA was not compared with the jogger samples in 1989 because Reyes was known to always act alone.

The report does not openly criticize the process by which the confessions were obtained, and does not place blame for any flaws in the prosecution. It is also not within the scope of the response or in the power of the D.A.'s office to declare innocence or guilt, but to accept that the young men are innocent is to accept that the criminal justice system failed. The response also points out that at the time of the trial, counsel for the defendants was free to exploit the weaknesses in the case.

While monetary compensation may be an objective of any future civil actions, they will also serve as an opportunity to closely scrutinize what really took place in the period following the attack, and civil cases could go a long way in identifying whether or not a wolf pack existed on the other side of the courtroom. Councilman Bill Perkins, an adviser to some of the families, says that as a result of this case, legislation has been introduced into the City Council calling for the taping of all police interrogations.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the Central Park Five assert that the report is an indictment of the criminal justice system and that the case will not be closed completely by clearing their clients or settling a lawsuit. "If the people in the district attorney's office and the Police Department who committed acts of criminal misconduct are punished," says Wareham, "that would be complete justice."

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