Portrait of a Serial Rapist

ByABC News

Dec. 5, 2002 -- Matias Reyes, the convicted murderer who has come forward after 13 years to say that he committed the notorious 1989 rape of a jogger in New York's Central Park, has said he is sorry for his crimes — but a psychologist who examined him says he doesn't buy it.

"It would be hard for me to believe this fellow is remorseful," the psychologist, N.G. Berrill, told Primetime. As the court-appointed mental health expert for Reyes' defense in 1991, Berrill spent hours examining him in a series of jailhouse interviews.

Reyes was sentenced to 33 1/3 years in prison after pleading guilty in 1991 to a string of three rapes and one rape-murder on Manhattan's Upper East Side, near Central Park. But investigators did not connect him to the Central Park rape until he came forward earlier this year. Five black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted of the Central Park crime after telling police they raped her during a "wilding" rampage, but Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is now calling for their convictions to be vacated.

The Mind of a Serial Rapist

Berrill believes that Reyes' personality fits a profile that has a tendency for violence. "I think he's not dissimilar to a lot of predators ... or psychopaths," he said. "They enjoy the hunt. They enjoy preying on others. They enjoy the kill or the sexual violence."

In an exclusive interview with Primetime broadcast in September, Reyes said he came forward because he found religion in prison. He apologized to all his victims, and said he deserved the punishment he had received.

But Berrill is skeptical of Reyes' contrition. "Antisocial individuals become masters of reading other people. That's why they are such good predators," he said, adding, "Unlike you or I, they don't suffer, or they're not burdened by, a conscience."

Wanted to Be a Superhero

During the 1991 evaluation sessions, Reyes told Berrill he had a desire to be a "superhero," and that he was the "president" or "king" of his social group.

"It's clear in his real life he was no superhero, or a king," Berrill told Primetime. "But, you know, if you're committing a series of crimes where you subdue people — you rape them, you murder them — you do in a sense approximate in this very perverse way superhuman powers — until you are caught."

Predators of Reyes' type, Berrill said, often become serial offenders. "The high wears off. That sense of the grandiose sense of self dissipates over time. The only way to restore that is ... commit the crime again.":

Reyes Describes Troubled Childhood

Reyes also told Primetime: "I know I wasn't born to kill people. I know I wasn't born to hate people who hadn't done any harm to me."

He said he had an unstable and traumatic childhood growing up in Puerto Rico. He lived with his father, and handyman who was so poor that father and son usually slept in a truck. He said he was sexually molested at age 7 by some older boys while swimming in a river, and two years later, was sent to New York to live with a mother he barely knew.

Soon after his arrival in New York, Reyes began using drugs and getting in trouble, he said. "We used to run into the Chinese stores, rob them, sneak into the movies. We use to throw eggs. We used to beat people up. They used to call it 'wilding.' We called it 'demos'... 'Let's do a demo,'" he said.

By the time he was a young teenager, Reyes said, he was working as a prostitute, rarely going to school and having no real home. That made for a dangerous combination as he grew into a young man and began to commit his crimes. "I didn't know how to read. I didn't know how to write. I didn't know anything about life, anything about sports," he said. "I was 18 years old, but in my frame of mind I had so much anger, you know, I was just off the hook."

Asked whether he thinks Reyes was born with a tendency toward violence, or was the product of his difficult childhood, Berrill said "I think it's a little of both.... A lot of people have terrible lives, ... but interestingly we don't all rape and kill as a consequence."