On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was brutally attacked and raped in New York's Central Park. She was found unconscious with her skull fractured. When she recovered, she had no memory of the assault. This case exploded in the media. It was one of the most extensively covered cases in the 1980s. There was intense pressure on the police and prosecution to solve the crime.
The police investigation quickly focused on a group of Black and Latino youths, some of whom were already in police custody for a series of other incidents in the park that night. After prolonged periods of police interrogation, five teenagers – Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise – falsely confessed to being involved in the attacks even though all of them were innocent.
The following year, all five teenagers were convicted, in two separate trials, of charges stemming from the attack. Though he was just 16 years old, Wise was tried as an adult and convicted of assault and sexual abuse. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.
In a chance encounter in prison, Wise met the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, who was serving time for an unrelated sexual assault. Following their meeting, Reyes contacted his attorney and eventually the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and confessed to the Central Park assault. When Reyes met with the original police investigators and prosecutors, he was able to provide details of the offense that only the true perpetrator would know. Then, DNA testing, not available at the time of trial, physically tied Reyes to the crime.
The Manhattan DA’s office convened an independent panel to investigate the new evidence and look at the earlier confessions of Mr. Wise and the four other youth. After an extensive investigation, the independent panel recommended that the DA’s office dismiss the charges against all of the young men. On Dec. 19, 2002, on the recommendation of the Manhattan district attorney, the convictions of the five men were overturned. At that point, Wise was the only one of the five who was still in prison. After wrongfully serving 11.5 years, he was released from prison.
Following their exoneration, Wise and the other young men sued the Manhattan police department and DA’s office. But, it was not until 2014 that the city of New York finally agreed to settle the lawsuits and provide all five men with some reparations for the wrong done to them.
In 2015, Wise generously gave a multiyear gift to the law school to facilitate the founding of the Korey Wise Innocence Project. We are honored to have his name on our project and look forward to his continued involvement in our work.