Sept. 26, 2002 -- More than a decade after five black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted in the brutal rape of a jogger during a rampage through New York's Central Park, a man has come forward to say that he committed the crime — alone.
The man, Matias Reyes, is currently serving a 33-year sentence for a string of violent rapes — and one murder — that he committed in the four months after the April 1989 assault on the jogger, which left her near death and in a coma for 12 days.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Reyes told ABCNEWS' Primetime he beat and raped the Central Park victim, an investment banker, as she was jogging along a little-used, dimly lit side road in the park. "I thought I left her there for dead," he said. (For Reyes' detailed account, see below.)
Reyes, 31, said he acted "absolutely" alone. He made the same confession to prison officials in January and later to the Manhattan District Attorney's office, and told Primetime no one offered him anything in return. "It's time," he said.
Investigators told ABCNEWS that DNA tests have conclusively matched Reyes to semen that was found on the jogger's sock.
The five teenagers have all served out their sentences, spending as much as 13 years in prison. They deny raping the woman, and their lawyers are seeking to have their convictions vacated.
Police who worked on the original case maintain that the convictions are valid, saying that Reyes' confession — and the DNA evidence that supports it — do not rule out the possibility that the teenagers also assaulted the woman, either with Reyes, or before or after him. They note that four of the five teenagers described the rape in detail in videotaped confessions.
Night of ‘Wilding’ Convulses City
The attack on the 28-year-old jogger, on the night of April 19, 1989, sent shockwaves through a city that was already reeling from high crime and a series of racially divisive incidents.
Police said the rape was part of a rampage of 12 random attacks by a gang of as many as 40 black and Hispanic youths who swooped down on the park for something the teenagers described as "wilding." Police also said some of the suspects laughed and joked in jail after their arrest, and sang the rap song "Wild Thing."
White New Yorkers complained bitterly of crime caused by "these people," while black and Hispanic New Yorkers said the case was receiving attention only because the victim was white and wealthy.
Videotaped Confessions Convinced Jurors
In the end, five of the teenagers — Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Kharey Wise, 16, and Yusef Salaam, 15 — confessed to being involved in the attack. The confessions, four of them recorded on videotape, in some cases with the boys' parents in the room, seemed detailed and convincing: "We grabbed her legs and stuff. Then we got a bunch of turns getting on her, like, getting on top of her," said McCray. "This is my first rape. This — I never did this before," said Wise, adding, "This will be the last time doing it."
Although their lawyers argued that the confessions were coerced, the tapes were played at the teenagers' trials. The jogger, who made what doctors said was a miraculous recovery, remembered nothing from the attack, but prosecutors said three blond hairs found on one of the defendants' jackets — one of them a pubic hair — were "similar" to the victim's. At the time, DNA testing was not sophisticated enough to definitively identify hairs.
DNA tests were, though, sophisticated enough to establish that the semen found on the jogger's sock did not match any of the teenagers. The defense also noted that no traces of the jogger's blood were found on the boys' clothes, despite the fact she bled profusely. But jurors, apparently swayed by the confessions, convicted the boys in two separate trials, of crimes including rape, attempted murder and assault. The five were given sentences of between five and 15 years. They were also sentenced for other crimes committed in the park that night.
An Encounter at Riker’s Island
Although they did not say so publicly at the time, the detectives who investigated the Central Park case were troubled about the semen, and believed there was another attacker still at large.
As it turned out, by the time the case went to trial, that attacker was already in custody — for a string of other violent rapes committed in the months after the Central Park attack, just blocks away on the Upper East Side. Reyes was arrested on Aug. 5, 1989, and confessed to raping four women and murdering one of them, a 24-year-old pregnant woman he killed as her three children called to her from another room. Reyes stabbed some of the victims in the eyes in the hope that they would not be able to identify him. He was sentenced to 33-and-one-third years to life.
At least one police officer and one assistant district attorney worked on both cases, and the same judge, State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Galligan, presided over both, but no one appeared to connect the two.
While awaiting trial at Riker's Island in 1989, Reyes later told Primetime, he even encountered one of the Central Park suspects, Wise, who was also awaiting trial. Reyes said he had a run-in with Wise when the two argued over what television program to watch. (Wise also remembers the incident, and both men say it was the first time they met.)
Reyes knew that Wise was charged in the Central Park rape, but he said nothing. "You know what it is to be in front of a guy, to sit and watch TV for so many days in the room right there? And you knowing that you did what the guy's accused of and not finding the strength or the desire to tell this man that 'Hey, it's me. You didn't do this. Let me help you out'? But that's how cynical, and that's how self-centered — that's how much anger I still had left inside."
Reyes kept quiet for the next decade. But then, in 2001, he ran into Wise again when they were both transferred to the Auburn Prison in upstate New York. Although he still considers himself a "monster," Reyes said that years of prison counseling had given him some degree of a conscience. "What I didn't feel back in 1989, I felt it then," he told Primetime. "I said, 'It's time. I can't believe I let this man in here 13 years of his life, for something that he didn't do.'"
In January 2002, Reyes confessed to prison officials that it was he who had beaten and raped the Central Park jogger. In the spring, he gave the same account to the Manhattan District Attorney's office, which began an investigation. Investigators found that Reyes' semen was an exact DNA match for the semen found on the jogger's sock. They also found that the blond hairs used as physical evidence in the 1990 trial did not in fact belong to the victim.
Police Say Convictions Still Valid
Despite Reyes' insistence that he acted alone, several detectives who worked on the 1989 case told Primetime they are still sure the five teenagers were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. Most said they think Reyes is the other attacker they always believed was out there, though they are divided over whether he was with the teenagers when he raped the jogger, or whether he acted before them or after them.
"I believe these kids did it. They said they did it," said Bert Arroyo, who was the lead detective on the case, adding, "The videotapes speak for themselves." Arroyo, who believes Reyes raped the woman after the teenagers had left her, said the teenagers gave the confessions voluntarily and without coercion. However, two leading experts on false confessions told Primetime that interrogators can sometimes encourage false confessions — even if that is not their intention.
The five convicted men now deny participating in or witnessing the rape, and say they did not know Reyes at the time. Reyes also denies that he knew any of the teenagers and told Primetime he did not see them in the park that night. He said he believes prosecutors should reexamine the boys' convictions. "I just hope they do the right thing. Then if they don't, it'll be on their head," he said.
Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner who reviewed the forensic testimony at Primetime's request and visited the crime scene, said the physical evidence did not rule out a gang rape, but was "more consistent" with a single perpetrator.
Reyes argues that, if he had committed the rape with the five teenagers, it is highly likely that one of them would have given him up at some point over the years. He also said he finds it hard to believe the teenagers would have assaulted the woman in the condition he left her. "For somebody to come do something then, they would have to be as sick as I was, or sicker."