Examination of a 22-year-old crime that resulted in wrongful convictions of five adolescents.
Burns became knowledgeable about the so-called Central Park jogger rape case while studying at Yale University, from which she graduated in 2004. On Apr. 20, 1989, the battered body of a young professional female turned up in the park. Though she was near death after a savage beating and massive blood loss, she survived. In Central Park that night, a group of more than 30 adolescents had been committing lesser but still serious crimes involving violence against men and women. New York City police began focusing on some of the members of that larger group, and decided quickly that probably eight of the young males had participated in the rape. Only one of the youths charged with the crime was age 16 at the time, and police interrogated him without adults present. The interrogators extracted a confession of sorts from the 16-year-old, and used questionable tactics to gain partial admissions of guilt from four others under age 16. A jury convicted three of the youths during one trial, and two other youths at a separate trial. All served hard time in juvenile or adult correctional facilities despite evidence that never added up if looked at dispassionately. Burns reveals astoundingly incompetent police work. Only two days before the infamous sexual assault, another woman had been assaulted in Central Park in a similar manner. Furthermore, the actual perpetrator attracted police notice right away but never underwent meaningful questioning. If he had not finally confessed while in prison, the five wrongfully convicted defendants might never have seen their reputations cleared. Burns' examination is especially powerful because she moves beyond the specific crimes to examine the poisonous combination of police tunnel vision, over-aggressiveness by prosecutors, inept defense attorneys, inaccurate journalists and portions of society so racist that the inability to detect lies infected an entire city.A superb addition to the growing literature of wrongful convictions.