When Trump published his full-page ads, police had already arrested five suspects for the crimes, all of whom were young black and Hispanic men between the ages of 14 and 16. Each had been named in connection with unrelated beatings and attacks in the park that night. Of the five teenagers, who would later be known as the Central Park Five, four were 14 or 15 years old. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the previous year in Thompson v. Oklahoma that executing a 15-year-old would be cruel and unusual punishment. However, the fifth defendant had been 16 years old at the time of the attack, and the Court had upheld the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds in Stanford v. Kentucky in the summer between his arrest and his trial.
But even if all of the Central Park Five had been old enough to qualify for death sentences, none of them could have been executed for the crime. The Supreme Court had already abolished the death penalty for rape over a decade earlier in the 1977 case Coker v. Georgia. The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Thurgood Marshall, avoided citing the vast racial disparities in death sentences for rape in its reasoning. But the justices, especially Marshall, were aware of those disparities and likely motivated by them. Between 1930 and 1972, only Southern and border states still imposed the death penalty for rape; over 90 percent of those executed for it were black.
All five teenagers were eventually tried, convicted, and sentenced to multiple years in prison for the Central Park rape. Then, years later, it was revealed that none of them had actually committed the crime.
The “park marauders,” the “roving gang,” the “crazed misfits” were fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen years old. The confessions they gave, as children, had been false, spun out under the pressure of hours of police interrogations. (They were, had anyone been ready to acknowledge it at the time, also inconsistent; they also had parents whom they weren’t able to see before their questioning.) The boys were sent to prison. One of them, Kharey Wise, who at sixteen was the oldest and sentenced as an adult, was still there when, eleven years after the rape in the park, he happened to cross paths with a prisoner named Matias Reyes. It occurred to Reyes that it was his fault that Wise was there. He confessed that he, and he alone, had raped and beaten Meili, as he had raped other women over the years. He described to police how he had tied her with her clothes; it had been part of his M.O. in other cases, something that gave credibility to his confession. It moved beyond a doubt when a DNA test matched Reyes to the semen found on Meili’s body. The DNA hadn’t matched any of the teen-agers—one of the many details that got blinked over in the trial. They were exonerated twelve years ago, and the charges were formally dropped.
The Central Park Five sued the city for their wrongful prosecution and received a $40 million settlement in 2014, $1 million for every year of their lives wrongfully spent behind bars. Shortly after the news of the settlement broke, Trump published an op-ed in the New York Daily News calling it “a disgrace.”
Forty million dollars is a lot of money for the taxpayers of New York to pay when we are already the highest taxed city and state in the country. The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city.
Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.
Trump was far from the only New Yorker who rushed to condemn the Central Park Five in the heated summer of 1989. And, as a real-estate businessman and private citizen, he was free to propose any number of unconstitutional solutions to complex social issues.