Good people sometimes do bad things, and when a wrong is identified, the hope is that an acknowledgement will be made. So we are reminded in reading the July 20 Law Journal report of the release of long concealed documents relating to the destructive prosecution of five teenagers swept up in the aftermath of the brutal assault on a jogger in Central Park in 1989. When confronted with additional facts, former District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau assigned one of his most talented aides to re-investigate the long-closed case, which led to his publicly joining in with the defense motion to set aside the convictions and, importantly, dismiss the indictments. Notwithstanding the dismissals, and an accumulation of evidence supporting that resolution, former sex crimes bureau chief, Linda Fairstein, continues to insist that these wrongfully prosecuted youngsters should have been convicted.
Warnings of the prosecution’s infirmity were there from the very beginning: the “correcting” of a so-called “confession” after an all-night interrogation, the continuation of the sexual assaults in the same community that preceded and succeeded the arrest of the teenagers; the DNA report that placed not one of the youngsters at the crime scene; and the prosecutor’s surreptitious adjustment of the timing of the events between the trial of the first group of defendants and the second. Indeed, before either trial, the prosecuting team had obtained the DNA of the actual assailant, identified as the man who had committed numerous sexual assaults in that community, but never bothered to explore a match with the DNA left on the central park jogger. This is not the stuff that warrants a conclusion of the youngsters’ guilt.
Notwithstanding Fairstein’s unsupported hypothesis, the long-delayed release of additional documents, always in the control of the prosecution, will not “change the narrative.” What is known beyond any question, is that sixteen-year old Kharey Wise was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit, where he remained until he was thirty, and that this wrenching crime was not finally resolved until the actual and lone assailant, Matias Reyes, came forward with the same DNA match long in the hands of the prosecution. Nor should it be forgotten that numerous other victims in the community were left vulnerable because of the prosecutors’ close-minded, slipshod rush to judgment against the wrong defendants.
Eric A. Seiff, who is of counsel to Storch Amini, was the attorney for Kharey Wise at the 2003 proceedings reversing the conviction and dismissing the indictment.