Trisha Meili

Trisha Meili

Trisha Meili (born June 24, 1960), often described in the media as the Central Park Jogger, was the victim in a high-profile assault and rape case in New York City in 1989.

Raised in New Jersey and Pittsburgh, Meili received a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College, a Master of Arts from Yale University, and an Master of Business Administration from Yale School of Management. She worked at the Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers, but went into seclusion for 14 years following the crime. In 2003 she revealed her identity to the media, published a memoir, and began a career as an inspirational speaker.


On April 19, 1989, the 28-year-old investment banker was violently assaulted while jogging in New York City's Central Park. She was raped and beaten almost to death. When found, she was suffering from severe hypothermia and blood loss, and her skull had been fractured. The initial prognosis of her physicians was that she would die or remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries; she recovered fully, however, with no memory of the attack.

The crime, one of 3,254 rapes reported in New York City that year, was unique in the level of public outrage it provoked. New York Governor Mario Cuomo told the "New York Post", "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."cite news |first=Joan |last=Didion |authorlink=Joan Didion |coauthors= |title=Sentimental Journeys |url= |quote= |publisher=New York Review of Books |date=January 17, 1991 |accessdate=2007-06-21 This essay has also been published in Didion's non-fiction collection "After Henry" (1992).]


According to a police investigation, the culprits were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as "wilding." New York City detectives said the word was used by the suspects themselves to describe their actions to police. [cite news|first=David E.|last=Pitt|title=Jogger's Attackers Terrorized at Least 9 in 2 Hours|publisher=New York Times |date=1989-04-22|quote=The youths who raped and savagely beat a young investment banker as she jogged in Central Park Wednesday night were part of a loosely organized gang of 32 schoolboys whose random, motiveless assaults terrorized at least eight other people over nearly two hours, senior police investigators said yesterday. Chief of Detectives Robert Colangelo, who said the attacks appeared unrelated to money, race, drugs or alcohol, said that some of the 20 youths brought in for questioning had told investigators that the crime spree was the product of a pastime called "wilding." ] This account has been disputed by other journalists, who say that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing".Cooper, Barry Michael (May 9, 1989) "The Central Park Rape" in "The Village Voice".] cite news |first=Mark |last=Goldblatt |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Certainties and Unlikelihoods: The Central Park Jogger, 2002 |url= |quote=On the night of April 19, 1989, just after 9 o'clock, it is certain, absolutely certain, that Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Yusef Salaam, 15, Antron McCray, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, ran amok for a half hour across a quarter-mile stretch of Central Park — chasing after bicyclists, assaulting pedestrians, and (in two separate incidents) pummeling two men into unconsciousness with a metal pipe, stones, punches, and kicks to the head. The teens later confessed on videotape to these attacks — which they couldn't have known about unless they had participated. As recently as this year, Richardson and Santana again acknowledged their roles in these crimes. |publisher=National Review |date=December 16, 2002 |accessdate=2007-08-21 ] April 19 was known to have been a night when such a gang attack occurred, in which the suspects had entered the park in Harlem with over 30 acquaintances. The group had indeed assaulted many park-goers.

While many teenage suspects were identified (or identified themselves) as participants in the Central Park assaults that night — although not necessarily in the attack on Meili — only five were brought to trial. All five were convicted in 1990. Four of the juveniles charged — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise — officially confessed to the crime, and each implicated the others. A fifth suspect, Yusef Salaam, made verbal admissions, but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. Salaam was, however, implicated by all of the other four and convicted.

Salaam's supporters and attorneys charged on appeal that he had been held by police without access to parents or guardians, but as the majority appellate court decision noted, that was because Salaam had initially lied to police in claiming to be 16, and had backed up his claim with a transit pass that indeed (falsely, as it turned out) said that he was 16. If a suspect has reached 16 years of age, his parents or guardians no longer have a right to accompany him during police questioning, or to refuse to permit him to answer any questions. When Salaam informed police of his true age, police permitted his mother to be present. [cite news|publisher=Associated Press in Albany Times Union |title=Detective Cites Coercion of Teen |date=1990-07-24 |accessdate=2007-04-15 |page=B6| quote=Justice Thomas B. Galligan allowed the statements as evidence because Salaam gave police a student transit pass with a false birth date written in. The false birth date indicated Salaam was a year older that he was.]


Although the suspects (except Salaam) had confessed on videotape in the presence of a parent or guardian, they retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions.cite news |first=Sydney |last=Schanberg |authorlink=Sydney Schanberg|coauthors= |title=A Journey Through the Tangled Case of the Central Park Jogger |url=,schanberg,39999,1.html |quote=Every now and again, we get a look, usually no more than a glimpse, at how the justice system really works. What we see before the sanitizing curtain is drawn abruptly down is a process full of human fallibility and error, sometimes noble, more often unfair, rarely evil but frequently unequal, and through it all inevitably influenced by issues of race and class and economic status. In short, it's a lot like other big, unwieldy institutions. Such a moment of clear sight emerges from the mess we know as the case of the Central Park jogger. |publisher=Village Voice |date=November 26, 2002 |accessdate=2007-08-21 ] While the confessions themselves were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.

No DNA evidence tied the suspects to the crime, so the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the confessions. In fact, analysis indicated that the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects — and that the crime scene DNA had all come from a single, as-yet-unknown person.

One of the suspects' supporters, Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem told the "New York Times", "The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that's what happened here."

Convictions vacated

In 2002, convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, serving a life sentence for other crimes but not, at that point, associated by the police with the attack on Meili, declared that he had committed the assault, and that he had acted alone. The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the crime and identified him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people".

Supporters of the five defendants again claimed their confessions had been coerced. An examination of the inconsistencies between their confessions led the prosecutor to question the veracity of the confessions. District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau's office wrote:

"A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies. ... The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime — who initiated the attack, who knocked the victim down, who undressed her, who struck her, who held her, who raped her, what weapons were used in the course of the assault, and when in the sequence of events the attack took place. ... In many other respects the defendants' statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence. And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact."cite web |url= |title=Affirmation in Response to Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction: The People of the State of New York -against- Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana, Defendants |date=2002-12-05 |format=PDF |publisher=Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney, New York County |accessdate=2007-06-22]

Based on Reyes' confession, the DNA evidence, and the questionable confessions, Morgenthau recommended that the convictions be vacated. In light of the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, the prosecutor recommended that the court vacate not only the convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili, but also those for the other crimes to which the defendants had confessed. The rationale was that the defendants' confessions to the other crimes were made at the same time, and in the same statements, as those related to the attack on Meili. Had the newly-discovered evidence been available at the original trials, it might have made the juries question whether any part of the defendants' confessions were trust-worthy.

Morgenthau's recommendation to vacate the convictions was strongly opposed by Linda Fairstein, who had overseen the original prosecution but had since left the District Attorney's office.

The five defendants' convictions were vacated by New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada on December 19, 2002. As Morgenthau recommended, Tejada's order vacated the convictions for all the crimes of which the defendants had been convicted.cite news |first=Susan |last=Saulny |title=Convictions and Charges Voided In '89 Central Park Jogger Attack |publisher=New York Times |date=2002-12-20 |quote= Thirteen years after an investment banker jogging in Central Park was savagely beaten, raped and left for dead, a Manhattan judge threw out the convictions yesterday of the five young men who had confessed to attacking the woman on a night of violence that stunned the city and the nation. In one final, extraordinary ruling that took about five minutes, Justice Charles J. Tejada of State Supreme Court in Manhattan granted recent motions made by defense lawyers and Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, to vacate all convictions against the young men in connection with the jogger attack and a spree of robberies and assaults in the park that night. |accessdate=2007-06-22]

Despite the analysis conducted by the District Attorney's office, New York City detectives maintained that the defendants had "most likely" been Reyes' accomplices in the assault and rape of Meili. [cite news |first=Robert D. |last=McFadden |authorlink=Robert D. McFadden |title=Boys' Guilt Likely in Rape of Jogger, Police Panel Says |publisher=New York Times |date=2003-01-28 |quote= A panel commissioned by the New York City Police Department concluded yesterday that there was no misconduct in the 1989 investigation of the Central Park jogger case, and said that five Harlem men whose convictions were thrown out by a judge last month had "most likely" participated in the beating and rape of the jogger. The panel also disputed the claim of Matias Reyes, a convicted killer and serial rapist, that he alone had raped the jogger. It was his confession last year that led to a sweeping re-examination of the infamous case by prosecutors, and to a reversal of all the original convictions against the five defendants. |accessdate=2007-06-22] They also complained that Morgenthau's staff had interfered with their ability to continue their police investigation by preventing them from interviewing prison inmates, and refusing to provide forensic reports and prison records. This claim notwithstanding, no indictments, convictions or disciplinary actions were ever taken against District Attorney's office staff members.

All of the defendants had completed their prison sentences at the time of Tejada's order, which only had the effect of clearing their names. However one defendant, Santana, remained in jail, convicted of a later, unrelated crime, although his attorney said that his sentence in that case had been extended because of his conviction in the Meili attack. All five were removed from New York State's sex offender registry.

Identification by the media

Because of continuing stigma associated with being the victim of a sexual crime, and the trauma that victims of such crimes often face, the American media generally do not reveal the identity of sexual assault victims. Thus, Meili was referred to simply as the "Central Park Jogger" in most media accounts. However, local television stations did release her name in the days immediately following the attack, and two newspapers, "The City Sun" and the "Amsterdam News", and radio station WLIB continued to do so as the case progressed. In 2003, Meili revealed her identity in an effort to help other victims and released her account, "I Am the Central Park Jogger". [cite book| first=Trisha| last=Meili|title=I am the Central Park Jogger|isbn=0743244370 |year=2003|publisher=Scribner]

Contrary to normal police procedure, which stipulates that the names of suspects under the age of sixteen are also to be withheld, the names of the juveniles arrested in this case were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted, including one 14-year-old who was ultimately not charged. The mainstream media's double-standard — printing the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects while shielding Meili — was cited by the editors of the "City Sun" and the "Amsterdam News" to explain their continued use of Meili's name in their coverage of the story. [cite book| first=Valerie| last=Smith| title=Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings| isbn=0-415-90325-4 |year=1998 |publisher=Routledge |pages=pp. 16-17]


Further reading

*Connor, Tracy (October 20, 2002) "48 hours: Twisting trail to teens' confessions". " New York Daily News" []
*Michael F. Armstrong, et al. (January 27, 2003) "NYPD Review of the Central Park Jogger Case" []
*Ryan, Nancy E. (December 5, 2002) "Affirmation in Response to Motion to Vacate Judgement of Conviction" []
*" [ Central Park Revisited] " New York Magazine.
*cite book| author= Timothy Sullivan| title=Unequal Verdicts: The Central Park Jogger Trials| location=New York | publisher=Simon & Schuster| year=1992| id=ISBN 0-671-74237-X
*cite book| title=Manhattan North Homicide: Detective First Grade| last=McKenna| first=Thomas| publisher=St Martin's Press | year=1996 | isbn=031214010X

External links

* [ Trisha Meili's professional site]
*Innocence Project: [ Salaam] , [ Richardson] , [ McCray] , [ Santana] , [ Wise]
* [ Center on Wrongful Convictions]

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