Table of Contents
- Yusef Salaam
- Korey Wise
- Kevin Richardson
- Raymond Santana
- Antron McCray
- An unexpected interrogation
- Serving time in adult prisons
- Looking for justice after wrongful incarceration
- Where Korey Wise is today
- What really happened to Korey Wise’s sister?
- ‘I was stabbed and stomped on’
- Caught up by mistake
- ‘All you can do is survive’
- ‘They’ll get what’s coming to them’
- Multi-million dollar settlement
- Filming ‘When They See Us’ in NY prisons changed Jharrel Jerome: ‘I indulged in that loneliness’
- In 1989, five young men of color were accused of beating and raping a white woman in Central Park—and now their story is being told in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us.
- The men, known as the Central Park Five, were wrongfully accused and convicted of numerous crimes, and their convictions have since been overturned.
- Each of the five men served between five and 12 years in prison.
The Netflix miniseries When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay, debuts today, and tells the true story of the Central Park Five, five Black and Latinx boys, ages 14 to 16, who were wrongfully accused of raping and beating a woman known as the Central Park Jogger in 1989.
They were accused of raping and brutally beating, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman who was jogging in Central Park after work. Meili was found with a fractured skull, naked, tied up, and gagged near a wooded section of the park, according to the New York Times. She woke up from a coma 12 days later with no memory of what happened to her.
Before their convictions were overturned, each member of the Central Park Five spent a significant amount of time in prison. Here’s how much time they served before their 2002 exonerations:
Paras GriffinGetty Images
Found guilty of rape and assault, according to the Innocence Project (the organization that eventually helped exonerate the men) Salaam was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison when he was 14 years old. He was released after 6 years and 8 months.
Since his release, Salaam has become a father, inspirational speaker, and the recipient of a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award given to him by President Barack Obama.
Taylor HillGetty Images
At 16 years old, Wise was convicted of assault, sexual abuse, and riot, per the Innocence Project. He served 12 years in prison for his five-to-15-year sentence. Of the five, Wise was the only one tried as an adult.
After changing his first name to Korey from Kharey, Wise donated $190,000 (a portion of the $41 million dollar the Central Park Five was awarded by the state of New York) to the Innocence Project. The Colorado chapter of the organization is now named after him. He is an advocate for those who’ve been wrongly convicted and lives in New York.
John LamparskiGetty Images
Richardson served five and a half years of his five-to-10-year sentence, according to the Innocence Project. He was charged and convicted at 14 years old for attempted murder, rape, sodomy, and robbery.
Richardson, now married with children, works with the Innocence Project speaking about criminal justice reform.
John LamparskiGetty Images
For a crime he did not commit, Santana was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for rape and assault. He served five years, per the Innocence Project, from ages 14 to 19.
Santana is now living in Georgia with his daughter. He started a clothing company called Park Madison NYC, per People. Some of the apparel features Santana’s mugshot and the names of the Central Park Five, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Innocence Project.
Taylor HillGetty Images
At 15 years old, Antron McCray was convicted of rape and assault, per the Innocence Project, and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He served six years before his exoneration.
Today, McCray is a father living in Georgia and working as a forklift operator, according to Elle.
Aryelle Siclait Assistant Editor Aryelle Siclait is an assistant editor at Women’s Health where she writes about relationship trends, sexual health, pop-culture news, food, and physical health for verticals across WomensHealthMag.com and the print magazine.
Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us has put the stories of the Central Park Five back in the news. Five teenagers served time — and were released between 1995 and 2002 — for a crime they didn’t commit. Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana were wrongfully convicted of the brutal rape and beating of 28-year-old Trisha Meili, an investment banker who was attacked while running in Central Park on the evening of April 19, 1989. After the assault, Meili was in a coma for 12 days and woke up with no memory of what happened that night.
While Meili was unconscious, detectives interrogated the teens, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, for up to 30 hours until they provided false confessions. Despite the absence of any DNA evidence linking them to the horrific crime, Salaam, Richardson, McCray, Wise, and Santana were convicted and given prison sentences of between five and 15 years.
It’s now known that the true perpetrator was Matias Reyes, a serial rapist who was in prison when he confessed to the crime in 2002. Reyes’s DNA was a match to semen found on Meili’s sock; he was never charged with the crime because the statute of limitations had expired. However, his admission did lead to the exonerations of Salaam, Richardson, McCray, Wise, and Santana. Because Wise was 16 at the time of the crime, he was the only member of the Central Park Five old enough to be charged as an adult — so he received the longest sentence and was still incarcerated when Reyes confessed. After serving over 13 years in adult prisons including the infamous Rikers Island, Wise was released in 2002 due to Reyes’s confession.
Salaam, Richardson, McCray, and Santana had been released from prison by the time Reyes confessed and their convictions were vacated — but they’d already spent years of their lives incarcerated for a crime they didn’t commit. Salaam was released in March 1997 after serving seven years and 11 months, Richardson was released in June 1997 after serving eight years and two months, McCray was released in September 1996 after serving seven years and five months, and Santana was released in December 1995 after serving six years and eight months. By the time Reyes confessed, Wise had spent 13 years and three months behind bars.
As When They See Us masterfully illustrates, the Central Park Five are a tragic example of the flaws in our justice system and the manner in which prosecutors and detectives exploited these flaws and used the city and country’s racial tensions to their advantage. As a result, five children spent the majority of their teen years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, and it’s important to remember that they are victims as well.
Image Source: Getty / John Lamparski
- Korey Wise is the oldest of the so-called “Central Park Five.”
- As seen in the Netflix miniseries When They See Us, Korey was tried and sentenced as an adult in the Central Park Jogger case.
- Jharrel Jerome, the actor who played Korey in When They See Us, is now nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.
Every last part of watching Netflix miniseries When They See Us is devastating. The series, which was created and directed by Emmy-nominated Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th), follows the true story of the Central Park Five: five black and Latino teens — Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson — who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the brutal assault and rape of a 28-year-old female jogger in Central Park.
As viewers have watched the four-episode series, however, one character’s story has struck them as especially heartbreaking — and that’s the story of Korey Wise.
An unexpected interrogation
When police began collecting suspects in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case, Korey Wise’s friend, 15-year-old Yusef Salaam, was brought in for questioning. In a show of support, Korey decided to accompany him. This turned out to be a grave mistake, however, as the police ended up pulling him into the interrogation room as well.
At 16, Korey was the oldest of the boys who would eventually become known as the “Central Park Five.” And because of his age, he was legally allowed to be questioned by detectives without the supervision of a parent or guardian. Combine this with the fact that Korey struggled with hearing issues and a learning disability, and the teen was especially vulnerable to the pressures of the detectives’ allegedly aggressive questioning.
There is no Central Park Five. It was four plus one.
By the end of his interrogation, Korey had given both a written and a videotaped confession. The details in his statements didn’t match the details of the actual crime, and Korey would later say that the police, led by head of the Manhattan D.A.’s sex crimes unit Linda Fairstein, coerced him into submitting a false confession.
Serving time in adult prisons
Despite the lack of solid evidence, all five boys were ultimately found guilty of various charges of rape and assault in the Central Park Jogger case. But unlike the other four teens, who were tried as minors and sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility (where they could be held until they turned 21), Korey was sentenced to five to 15 years — all of which were to be spent in an adult prison.
Actor Jharrel Jerome plays Korey Wise in the Netflix miniseries When They See Us. Netflix
The teenager was initially sent to Rikers Island, the infamous New York City jail. And as is shown in the fourth and final episode of When They See Us, it was a rough time for him: Just a kid thrust into a group of adult criminals, Korey was subject to great violence and abuse during his time there and in other federal prisons. He also spent several long periods of his incarceration locked away in solitary confinement.
“One of the things that really struck me was when Korey said to me, ‘There is no Central Park Five. It was four plus one. And no one has told that story,'” When They See Us director Ava Duvernay told Town & Country. “I think it’s important for people to understand the depths of what it means to be incarcerated in adult prisons in this country.”
Eventually, Korey met murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes in prison, and Matias confessed to be to being the actual, lone perpetrator of the Central Park Jogger rape. A DNA test (along with Matias’s knowledge of the details of the crime) confirmed his guilt, and in 2002, Korey was released from prison. By that time, he had served 12 years.
Looking for justice after wrongful incarceration
After Korey was released from prison and then-District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau vacated all of the Central Park Five’s charges, three of the men — Antron, Kevin, and Raymond — filed a lawsuit against the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. It took more than a decade and the election of a new mayor (Bill de Blasio), but New York finally finally settled the lawsuit for $41 million. And as the man who had wrongfully served the most time in prison, Korey received the largest portion of the settlement: $12.2 million.
At the end of the day, however, Korey still served more than a decade in prison as an innocent man, and he knows that those are years that the settlement won’t give him back: “You can forgive, but you won’t forget,” he says in Sarah and Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five. “You won’t forget what you lost. No money could bring that time back. No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away.”
Where Korey Wise is today
Korey Wise attends the premiere of Netflix miniseries When They See Us in New York City. Getty Images
Today, Korey still lives in New York City, where he works as a public speaker and criminal justice activist. In 2015, he donated $190,000 to the University of Colorado’s chapter of the Innocence Project, which then changed its name to the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law in his honor.
To this day, Korey’s friend Yusef says he still feels “pain” for unintentionally bringing Korey into the Central Park Jogger case — and the release of Netflix’s When They See Us only amplifies that feeling.
We were in paradise compared to the hell that Korey was in.
“We had all gone through hell. But when I saw this series, I immediately realized that we were in paradise compared to the hell that Korey was in,” Yusef recently said in an interview with The New York Times. “I went to jail and I was able to get a college degree. He never got an opportunity to breathe.”
Despite all that Korey has been through, however, the now-46-year-old keeps a surprisingly positive attitude — something that Jharrel Jerome, the actor who plays Korey in When They See Us, noticed immediately upon meeting him.
“I was terrified to meet him just because this is the man I’m going to portray, and I don’t know how to speak to somebody who’s lived a life like that because I’ve never met anyone like that,” Jharrel, who is nominated for an Emmy for his role, told Newsweek in a May interview. “The second I met him, he took his chain off and put it around my neck, and he said, ‘You’re Korey Wise now.’ That put everything into perspective for me about the kind of man he is. It’s all strength, it’s all power. He’s all bright.”
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More on ‘When They See Us’
Heather Finn Content Strategy Editor Heather Finn is the content strategy editor at Good Housekeeping, where she heads up the brand’s social media strategy and covers entertainment news on everything from ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ to Netflix’s latest true crime documentaries.
Netflix’s new miniseries, When They See Us, tells the story of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, the men known as the Central Park Five. They were falsely convicted of the brutal 1989 rape of Trisha Meili, and spent between six and 13 years in prison. The identity of the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, wouldn’t be known until 2002. Here’s the story of his crime spree, and how, years later, the truth came to light.
Who is Matias Reyes?
Reyes was born in Puerto Rico in 1971 and moved to New York City as a child, following his mother. School reports noted his IQ as being in the seventies and described him as being “emotionally disturbed.” He later told psychiatrists that he had been sexually assaulted as a small child.
By the time he attacked Meili in April 1989, Reyes was 18 years old and working as a deli clerk in upper Manhattan. He was considered a loner, known primarily to customers at his shop. He spent his nights sleeping in a van near the store.
What crimes did he commit?
Reyes committed his first known attempted rape in late 1988, when he attacked a twenty-seven year old woman in the pews of a 90th street church. He threatened her with a knife and choked her, but she was able to persuade him not to rape her.
His next known attack occurred on April 17th, 1989. He attacked, beat, and began to rape a 26-year-old woman in northern Central Park before passersby interrupted and Reyes ran away. The woman described the man who assaulted her as having new stitches on his chin. After checking with local medical centers, a detective learned the name or Matias Reyes, who’d recently received facial stitches at Metropolitan Hospital. But the victim left the city shortly after the attack and the detective on her case was transferred away from the sex crimes unit, and the case went cold. Investigators never connected Meili’s rape to the similar attack that had occurred just two days earlier.
He assaulted five more women in the following months, forcing his way into their apartments. During one attack, Reyes murdered Lourdes Gonzalez, a pregnant mother-of-three, while her children listened from the next room.
How was he Caught?
On August 5th, 1989, Reyes followed his final victim into her 91st Street apartment and raped her. She managed to escape and run for help, summoning a neighbor and her doorman, who apprehended Reyes until police arrested him.
Authorities quickly identified him as the serial criminal named the East Side Slasher for the apartment invasion rapes, and Reyes confessed to the crimes in detail under interrogation. His DNA was later found to match that of three victims, including Gonzalez. Reyes accepted a plea bargain, agreeing to serve 33 years to life in prison. At his 1991 sentencing, he punched his lawyer and had to be carried out by guards. The judge recommended Reyes be imprisoned for life.
Korey Wise with When They See Us director Ava DuVernay in 2019. A chance meeting with Wise in prison inspired Reyes to confess to his crime. Jim SpellmanGetty Images
When did he confess to attacking Meili?
Reyes first met Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five, when the two were imprisoned together on Rikers Island. There, they got into a fight over the television. But the two encountered each other again in 2001, in the Auburn prison yard, and had a friendly conversation. Reyes felt guilty for the fact that Wise was still imprisoned for a crime he had committed, and came forward to confess to raping and nearly murdering Meili in 1989.
“I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime,” Reyes said to investigators in 2002. “At first, I was afraid, but at the end of the day I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.”
DNA evidence confirmed that Reyes had raped Meili. The Central Park Five’s convictions were overturned, and the men eventually settled a civil rights lawsuit with New York City for $40 million. Reyes is still in prison.
Gabrielle Bruney Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.
When They See Us, the new Netflix series about the Central Park Five trial, has received heavy praise since it premiered on May 31.
Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the four-part miniseries dramatizes the Central Park jogger case, in which five black youths were falsely accused of raping and assaulting 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili on April 19, 1989 in New York City’s Central Park.
The five teenagers, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, were imprisoned in 1990 and not exonerated of the crime until 12 years later, when the DNA of serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes matched the attack and he confessed to the crime.
Matias Reyes confessed in prison to raping and assaulting Trisha Meili in 1989. ABC
Played by English actor Reece Noi in the series, Matias Reyes was born in Puerto Rico in 1971 before he moved with his mother as a child to New York City.
Considered a loner, Reyes committed his first known attempted rape in 1988, when he threatened a 27-year-old Jackie Herbach at a church just east of Central Park with a knife. She convinced him not to rape her.
The next known attack occurred just two days before the rape and assault of Meili, on April 17, 1989. Reyes beat and began raping a 26-year-old woman in northern Central Park before fleeing the scene after being spotted by a passerby.
The victim identified her attacker as Hispanic and noted he had fresh stitches on his chin. When the detective assigned to the case checked local hospital record, he found a man fitting the description—Matias Reyes.
The woman left New York shortly afterward and stopped talking to police, with the detective assigned to the case transferred to a different unit. Reyes was never brought in for questioning, and the unsolved case was closed.
Reece Noi plays Matias Reyes in new Netflix series “When They See Us”. Netflix
As well as the rape and assault of Meili, his year-long reign of terror would see Reyes go on to attack another five women by forcing his way into their apartments. One of the women, Lourdes Gonzalez, was viciously raped and murdered by Reyes, with him stabbing the then-pregnant mother of three nine times in the chest and abdomen and once in the face at her basement apartment while her children were in the next room.
Reyes was finally caught on August 5, 1989. After raping a woman named Meg (last name withheld for privacy reasons) at her apartment, she managed to flee down three flights of stairs and alert other residents, who set upon him and kept him pinned down in the apartment’s lobby until the police arrived. In police custody he confessed to a number of rapes and the murder of Lourdes, receiving a life sentence on November 7, 1991.
In 2002, Reyes confessed in prison that he had assaulted and raped Meili back in 1989, and that he had acted alone. At the time, the 17-year-old was working at a convenience store in East Harlem and living in a van on the street.
DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the rape, identifying him as the sole contributor of the semen found both in and on the victim.
He was not prosecuted for raping and assaulting Meili, because the statute of limitations had passed by the time he confessed.
The confession from Reyes combined with the DNA evidence, led to the convictions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise to be vacated by New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada on December 19, 2002. As the five had already completed their prison sentences at the time of their exoneration, the order only had the effect of clearing their names.
The following year the five sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, with the case being settled for $41 million in 2014.
Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor who was reportedly instrumental in gaining false confessions from the five under duress, has maintained that despite evidence that the five youths prosecuted were still involved. “I think Reyes ran with that pack of kids,” she told The New Yorker in 2002.
What really happened to Korey Wise’s sister?
Marci Wise is Korey Wise’s late older sister – the pair shared an age gap of approximately two years.
Korey’s sister was murdered before his conviction was overturned in 2002.
Not much is known about the circumstances surrounding Marci’s death other than the fact she was killed.
According to The New York Times, data on the deaths of trans women in the US is difficult to gather due to police misreporting the names and genders of transgender victims.
Speaking to Oxygen.com, Isis King who plays Marci said: “I know she was murdered. I don’t want to speculate. But a lot of trans women of colour, especially when you’re kicked out of the house — a lot of trans women have trouble getting hired and have to resort to sex work. When you don’t have a family, a survival instinct kicks in.
“It puts you in a position where you’re in more dangerous situations. I don’t for sure know that’s the reason or if that’s what happened to Marci. But, unfortunately, that’s the reality for a lot of trans women.“
King also said: “Marci used a different name for a while, so I remember when we were filming Ava told me, ‘OK, we’re changing her name to Marci’. That was the last name she had and the name she preferred to go by.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO YUSEF SALAAM?
The “Central Park 5” case was one of the most publicized and controversial cases of the 1980s: five teens were falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a woman in Central Park, and it would take years before they were exonerated. And while all of their stories are tragic, one of the five in particular had an especially difficult journey and spent more time behind bars than the other four.
As Ava DuVernay’s new four-part Netflix series “When They See Us” shows, Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, were convicted of the rape and assault of 28-year-old Trisha Meili, an investment banker who was attacked in Central Park in 1989. All the boys spent between six and 13 years in prison for the attack before being exonerated in 2002 after the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed.
Wise was the only one who was still imprisoned in 2002, and he served the most time behind bars in adult prisons, including at the infamous Rikers Island. But the thing is, Wise wasn’t even a suspect to begin with. So why did he end up serving the most time?
As the series depicts, he only went down to the precinct to support his friend Salaam while police questioned him in connection with the rape. However police then decided to zero in on him, too, and because he was 16, he could be interrogated without a guardian — and be charged as an adult, the only member of the five old enough to be.
Korey Wise attends “When They See Us” World Premiere at The Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019. Photo: John Lamparski/Gett
But he may have also been particularly vulnerable for other reasons than age. In her 2011 book, “The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One Of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes,” Sarah Burns writes that Wise had hearing problems from an early age and a learning disability that limited his achievement in school.
In her book she described Wise as having a “childlike nature.” Burns, whose dad worked at a lawyer’s office who represented the five in a lawsuit, referred to him as “the least developed emotionally and intellectually of the boys.”
A videotaped confession shows a very confused Wise changing his story until he finally “confesses” to raping the victim. He was interrogated for hours until he provided multiple statements and two videotaped confessions, all of which wildly conflict with each other and the nature of the victim’s injuries. In one of his videotaped confessions, he even claimed Meili was stabbed with a knife. In actuality, she was struck by a rock after initially being hit with a tree branch.
In that taped confession, he also said he changed his statement after a “detective came in my face, arguing with me, cursing at me, hitting on me.”
On the stand he maintained he went to the park but said he left soon after, without participating in any violence.
“He explained that he’d then gone over to his girlfriend Lisa’s place for most of the rest of the evening,” Burns wrote.
The only violence he participated in, he claimed, came at the hands of police.
“He described being taken to the police precinct, and he accused Detective Nugent of slapping him and swearing at him, and telling him that he could go home if he lied and said he’d been there,” she wrote.
While on the stand, he said he couldn’t read or write very well and that he also had difficulty hearing. During cross examination, lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer asked him to read something and he couldn’t. Then, according to Burns’ book, she put records in front of him to prove that he hadn’t been going to school.
That’s when he explained that he was the victim of bullying.
“I was 12 years old back then. What does this have to do with Central Park,” he testified according to the book. “The reason why I wasn’t in school was because I was threatened not to go back to school. People putting guns to my head, that’s why.”
While imprisoned, Wise met the real rapist, Matias Reyes, behind bars who eventually admitted to the crime. DNA backed up that confession.
Even though he was exonerated, Wise had to spend years in adult prisons. “When They See Us” depicts some of the pain that he went through behind bars.
“One of the things that really struck me was when Korey said to me, ‘There is no Central Park Five. It was four plus one. And no one has told that story,’” director Ava DuVernay told Town & Country. “I think it’s important for people to understand the depths of what it means to be incarcerated in adult prisons in this country.”
After he was released, Wise changed his first name from Kharey to Korey. He both established and funded the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law School, which offers pro-bono legal counsel to wrongfully convicted people, like himself.
He is the only member of the five who chose to stay in New York City.
“You can forgive, but you won’t forget,” Wise in the 2012 documentary, “The Central Park Five.” “You won’t forget what you lost. No money could bring that time back. No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away.”
- Jharrel Jerome is nominated for an Emmy for his performance in Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed When They See Us.
- Jerome’s performance as Korey Wise, the eldest of the Central Park Five, has drawn rave reviews and was singled out for praise by Oprah Winfrey.
- Wise has an extraordinary story, having become an activist since the charges against him and the four other wrongfully accused men were overturned in 2002.
- Here are a few key things to know about Wise’s story and where he is now.
Ava DuVernay’s devastating Netflix series When They See Us, which tells the true story of the Central Park Five, has been deservedly showered with praise since its May debut, and it picked up 16 Emmy nominations ahead of this weekend’s awards. One of the standout performances–in a pretty flawless cast–is Jharrel Jerome, whose work as Korey Wise was so powerful that Oprah Winfrey herself singled him out for praise.
The Central Park Five, now re-christened the Exonerated Five, were five Black and Latino teenagers who, in 1989, were wrongfully convicted of attacking and raping a white woman. The eventual acquittal of Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Yusef Salaam, came only after all five men had served their time.
Wise, now 47, was the oldest of the five, and the only one to be tried as an adult. He was ultimately convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. The five faced sentences that ranged from five to 15 years in prison, and Wise spent close to 12 years at Rikers Island. Since his exoneration, he’s become an activist. Below is a primer on Wise’s extraordinary true story.
Kharey Wise and Jharrel Jerome. Emma McIntyreGetty Images
As depicted in When They See Us, Wise went voluntarily to the police station to accompany his younger friend, Yusef Salaam, who had been brought in for questioning as police began their search for suspects. “Yusef—that’s my boy,” Wise has told The New York Times, “That’s my little childhood brother there. We were just baby boys, we were just trying to be entrepreneurs, having fun being kids.” Wise was not a suspect at the time, but after going along to support Salaam, he ended up being interrogated too.
Because Wise was 16 at the time, he was legally allowed to be questioned without a parent or guardian present. Per the Times, he was “a gentle, emotionally stunted boy, his problems amplified by his hearing loss,” and his “development was severely delayed and his ability to comprehend his complicated and sometimes dangerous surroundings was woefully inadequate.”
Needless to say, none of this was taken into account by police when they questioned him. By the end of his lengthy interrogation, Wise had given multiple statements and recorded two videotaped confessions, all of which contradicted each other and were inconsistent with the established facts of the crime. For example, Wise says in one of his recordings that the victim was stabbed with a knife, which she was not. Wise later stated that the police intimidated and coerced him into giving a false confession.
Despite a lack of physical evidence tying any of them to the crime, all five were found guilty of various charges. At the first trial in August of 1990, Salaam, McCray, and Santana were acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. In a second trial later that year, Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, while Wise was convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. Wise was sent to Rikers Island, where he would spend the next 12 years of his life. The other four all spent between five and 10 years at a youth correctional facility.
“We had all gone through hell. But when I saw this series, I immediately realized that we were in paradise compared to the hell that Korey was in,” Salaam told The New York Times of Wise’s ordeal in Rikers. “His was unrelenting. I went to jail and I was able to get a college degree. He never got an opportunity to breathe, to meditate, to just say, ‘Phew, man, that was really crazy today. Let me kick my feet up a little bit and read this magazine.'”
During his time in prison, Wise met Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist who ultimately confessed to raping the jogger, also confirming that he acted alone. Reyes’s specific knowledge of the details of the crime, along with a DNA test, confirmed that he was guilty. Wise was released from prison in 2002 after 12 years.
Following his release, the group’s charges were vacated, and they filed a lawsuit against the city of New York, and after more than a decade the case was finally settled for $41 million. Wise still lives in the city, in his old neighborhood (Harlem), and works as a criminal justice activist and public speaker. In 2015, he pledged $190,000 to support the Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School, which was subsequently renamed in his honor.
“The hardest part of playing Korey was finding his happy moments and finding his moments where he’s flirting with Lisa , chilling with the homies or hanging out, smiling,” Jerome told The New York Times. “It was hard to find those moments because you don’t see that unless you actually meet the man and see him smile yourself. He’s unique, and everything about him is unique. So it wasn’t about being Korey Wise, it was about embracing him.”
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KOREY Wise can still remember the fear of hearing his cell door opening and knowing there was a good chance he would be beaten or even stabbed by other prisoners in the canteen.
He – along with four other black and hispanic teens – was just 16 when he was wrongfully arrested and charged with raping a white jogger in Central Park, New York, in 1989.
12 Korey says he survived “Donald Trump’s bounty on his head”Credit: Getty Images
Following a highly publicised trial, Korey and his friends – who became known as the Central Park Five and are the inspiration behind new Netflix show, When They See Us – suffered years of hell fighting for their lives in America’s toughest prisons.
Korey was threatened on hundreds of different occasions, beaten to within an inch of his life, stabbed by fellow prisoners and tormented by guards as he tried to survive what he describes as the “jungle”.
He spent over three years in solitary confinement and was transferred to six different prisons throughout his violent incarceration.
But to make matters even worse, Trump – then an influential businessman – stoked the flames by calling for Americans to “hate” the innocent boys and even campaigned for their deaths.
He, like many other Americans was convinced the teens were guilty of the horrendous crime and was determined to see ‘justice’ done.
12 Korey, pictured aged 16 at his arraignmentCredit: Getty – Contributor
But when new evidence came to light in 2002 which proved their innocence, the five men were finally released – and Korey, now 46, and his friends’ tragic life story is the basis for hit Netflix show.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Sun Online, Korey tells us that he still blames Trump for putting him through 14 years of hell.
‘I was stabbed and stomped on’
Speaking from his New York home, Korey says: “The hardest part of being in prison was living in the jungle… living and trying to survive in the jungle.
“I got stomped on. I got my ass whooped. I was stabbed. I was tormented for damn near 14 years. In those moments, you are fighting for your life. You are fighting to survive.
12 Actor Jharrel Jerome plays Korey Wise in the Netflix miniseries, When They See Us”Credit: Netflix
He (Trump) tried to have us executed, man. I survived his bounty that was over my head. I survived prison.
“I don’t even want to think about him. I don’t want to give him no energy. If I came face to face with him now, I would blank him.
12 The Central Park 5 as teens – clockwise from top left: Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, centre 12 Korey (left) and the rest of the wrongfully convicted Central Park Five as adultsCredit: Getty – Contributor
Caught up by mistake
Korey’s nightmare began on the night of April 19 1989 when 28-year-old Trisha Meili was brutally raped as she went for a jog through Central Park.
The highly educated finance worker was left for dead, losing 75 per cent of her blood due to severe trauma and a fractured skull.
At the same time of the attack, which Meili miraculously survived, a large group of youths were hanging out in Central Park.
Over the following two days, cops rounded up dozens of youngsters including the Central Park Five – Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise.
Central Park Five is set to provide a gripping crime series as well as explore the issue of racial prejudices
Korey wasn’t on the list of suspects but was dragged into the case after going to the police station to support his pal, Salaam.
Following the arrests, Trump took out $85,000 worth of ads in all four major New York newspapers calling for the death penalty for the boys.
Trump, who was an influential property mogul at the time, also appeared on national television and called for Americans to “hate” to get “something done”.
12 Donald Trump in Trump Tower around the time the Central Park Five were picked upCredit: Time Life Pictures 12 Trisha Meili was left in a coma for 12 days after she was raped and beaten in New York’s Central ParkCredit: Collect
‘All you can do is survive’
Following trial, the five young men were convicted of between 5-15 years in prison, despite there not being a single piece of physical evidence linking them to the crime.
At the time, the case shocked the world for the brutality of the attack and the controversy surrounding the arrests.
In the new Netflix mini-series, which has received rave reviews, the terrified youngsters are seen being coerced into false confessions by aggressive cops.
It also chronicles the trial, their time in jail and how they adjusted to life after being released.
The last and most shocking episode focuses on Korey, who received the longest sentence, as he attempts to survive adult prison.
12 Korey said he had to fight for his life in jail
Korey tells us: “I thought the show was very good. It wasn’t an easy thing to do but it is something that had to be done.
“I stayed in six different prisons but you don’t see numbers when you are fighting for your life. All you can do is survive when you are in there.
“But because I managed to survive, I was able to help bring about this Netflix series, so the world can see what goes on in prisons.
“People can see the truth of where their taxpayer dollars are going. I guess I am proud of what it shows. I guess you could say to some extent it was worth it.”
12 A scene from the Netflix drama series When They See Us
‘They’ll get what’s coming to them’
Korey, who always refused to admit to the crimes, even though it could have secured him an early release, was eventually let out of jail after being exonerated on December 19, 2002.
The other members of the group had all been released years earlier, except for Santana who was rearrested for drug offences.
Their exoneration came after the real attacker, Matias Reyes, confessed to raping Meili, and cops were able to match his DNA to the crime scene.
12 Trisha, as she is now, wrote a book titled ‘I Am The Central Park Jogger’Credit: Getty – Contributor
The four-part mini-series also singles out Linda Fairstein, who was the lead investigator in the case, as the chief antagonist.
Fairstein, who was played by Felicity Huffman, always believed the boys were guilty of their crimes even after they were pardoned.
She has since attacked the show saying it was full of “fabrication” but has since been dropped by her publisher and prodded into standing down from three charities.
12 Police close to the scene of the rape that shocked AmericaCredit: AP:Associated Press
Korey believes that people like her will get what is coming to them in the wake of public outrage over the series.
He added: “I have some anger towards people who work for the system.
“You can’t lump all the good apples and bad apples together. You got to keep them apart to see what is good and what is not good.
“But it went well with the Linda Fairstein situation. She has had to resign from her position because everything she has done is finally catching up with her.
“I was feeling pain and agony, but seeing her resign made me feel better. It means people are watching and people are listening.”
12 Korey now lives on his own in New York and hopes to start a family one dayCredit: Getty
Multi-million dollar settlement
Following a ten-year legal battle with the city of New York, the Central Park Five were eventually awarded a settlement of $41 million in 2014.
Korey received the largest portion of the settlement, $12.2 million, as he spent the longest time in jail.
He now spends his days hanging out with old childhood friends in New York, working as a public speaker and enjoying his freedom.
Korey admits he still suffers from post-traumatic stress and spends a lot of time on his own.
The humble hero also wants to thank all his fans and is very proud that he is now touching new audiences as far away as England.
He added: “I don’t have a big group of friends as I am very anti-social but I still hang around with some people who grew up with me.
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“I don’t have no family, my family is friends. I live on my own. I like to be on my own. I plan to start my own family in due time but right now I am too busy.
“Thank you, England, for accepting me into your home. I hope to one day in my life come out there to embrace the people.
“I want to show some appreciation to all the people out there.”
When They See Us is available on Netflix now.
Filming ‘When They See Us’ in NY prisons changed Jharrel Jerome: ‘I indulged in that loneliness’
Director Ava DuVernay with Jharrel Jerome, who portrays Korey Wise in “When They See Us.” Photo Credit: Marcus Santos for Newsday
Filming “When They See Us” in a shuttered Staten Island prison, actor Jharrel Jerome sits in his cell between takes and stares at a piece of tossed gum as the minutes pass by. Eventually, he picks it up, walks to the other side of his small cell and sticks it to the wall.
He spends much of his time on set fully immersing himself in what Korey Wise may have experienced while serving 12 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Even when I wasn’t shooting, they would call cut and go to lunch, I’d stay in my cell to figure out what it’s really like to be in a cell doing nothing,” Jerome, 21, says. “I brought the work home every day. I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I couldn’t think about food because of Korey not being able to eat.”
Jerome’s critically acclaimed performance in Ava DuVernay’s limited Netflix series about the prosecution, and later exoneration, of the Central Park Five has jolted the actor out of the darkness of a prison cell and into the Hollywood spotlight.
Jharrel Jerome plays both young and older Korey Wise in “When They See Us.” Photo Credit: Netflix/Atsushi Nishijima
Unlike the rest of the Central Park Five cast of “When They See Us,” Jerome is tasked with portraying both young and older Korey Wise, a stretch that spans more than a decade. While his co-stars — Ethan Herisse, Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Marquis Rodriguez — all have another actor to toss ideas around with, Jerome is on his own, just like Wise was while in jail 30 years ago.
The New Yorker spends much of his camera time in prison cells across the city and state to create the series’ powerful fourth and final episode. It depicts Wise’s turbulent sentence, mental health struggle and experience with violence at the hands of fellow inmates and guards.
“I walk from one side of the cell to the other, which is not much, and twiddle my thumb until Ava comes back, or the PA comes back and says, ‘we’re ready for you,’ ” he explains. “Then, I slip back into the realization — oh, I’m on set here, but what the hell did I just do with how much time has passed?”
“When They See Us” filmed inside prisons across New York. Photo Credit: Netflix/Atsushi Nishijima
That’s how much time Jerome spends alone in the cell during his break, staring blindly at the wall of his cell. Filming takes him to the shuttered Arthur Kill Correctional (also used for “Orange is the New Black”), as well as to cells in active prisons in Valhalla (Westchester County Correction) and Queens.
“A half an hour felt like three hours, so I can’t even imagine Korey spending 12 years,” he says.
For Jerome, the solitude isn’t the hardest part. It’s coping with filming inside active prisons.
“There were moments where I was walking back to my trailer and I had to hug the wall because there were real inmates coming through,” he says. “I actually learned the color system,” he adds, explaining that red jumpsuits mean “murder or drug dealing,” while green is a “minor offense.”
“I remember walking by them and I had this terrifying feeling of like, oh my god, these men are dangerous. And then I thought, there’s America’s mindset I just got thrown into right there.”
He shakes his head and looks down, expressing disappointment that he felt — even for a moment — that all of the men around him were dangerous.
“Maybe they threw that red on him and he deserves the green. The fact that they even categorize these men into levels has had a major toll on me.”
It reminds him of the Central Park Five themselves.
Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Korey Wise were charged in connection with the Central Park rape of 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili in 1989, despite a lack of evidence. Their case rode on confession tapes they insist were coerced. They served between 6 and 13 years in prison and were exonerated of their crimes in 2002 when Matias Reyes confessed.
“It was a lot for me, living right in the middle of the city where you see a cop every day,” Jerome says. “You’re walking around and then you feel like you’re walking among enemies, you know? All of that really taints your experience on life but teaches you so much. That’s what the show did for me. It knocked my naiveté out.”
“When They See Us” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Korey Wise told students that lasting criminal justice reform is still far from a reality as he shared his story at WMU on Friday afternoon.
Wise spoke in the Bernhard Center ballroom on Sept. 27. One of the Central Park Five, Wise’s story was dramatized in the limited series “When They See Us,” which received two Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Actor for Jharrel Jerome’s portrayal of Wise. Wise’s appearance at WMU marked his first public appearance since the Emmys.
In 1989, Wise and the other members of the Five were falsely convicted following the rape of Trisha Meili. No DNA evidence could connect the Five to the attack, but the prosecution managed to convict on various assault charges. Wise was originally not a suspect, but was brought into the investigation after he accompanied his friend to the police station.
“I was just a kid who loved his boy,” Wise said.
Wise and the others were eventually exonerated when Matias Reyes, a convict who Wise met during his time in prison, confessed to being the real perpetrator. DNA evidence confirmed Reyes confession. Since his release Wise has been an advocate for criminal justice reform, sharing his experiences.
“To be free is a state of mind, but to be free is also not a state of mind,” Wise said, describing how the current criminal justice system deprives people of their dignity. “You need to be free of parole, you need to be able to come and go as you damn well please.”
Wise said that before his exoneration he had planned to max out his prison sentence to avoid parole. Parole, he said, is just another form of imprisonment.
“You’re still the property of the state. You have a curfew, you could be 50 years old and still have a curfew,” he said.
Wise said that despite increased media coverage, he feels that no real progress has been made in regards to criminal justice reform. In someways, he said, things are getting worse.
“It’s the Twilight Zone… now are more like robots. And when they’re afraid they get itchy trigger fingers. RIP Eric Garner,” he said.
Wise also discussed President Trump. During the trial of the Five, Trump took out a full page ad in the Daily News calling the New York to “bring back the death penalty.” Despite the DNA evidence and their exoneration, Trump continues to argue for their guilt. Wise encouraged people to vote with the goal of “getting him out of office.”
“Vote wise,” he said, inciting a wave of laughter.
Wise continued with a discussion of some of the things that have kept him going over the years. During his imprisonment, Wise saw time in solitary confinement. During that time the only thing he had was his will to live.
“I wanted to stay alive. I don’t know why I wanted to stay alive, but I guess that’s the only great thing you can do,” he said. He added that his time in solitary provided a sense of safety that was hard to find amongst the general population.
After his exoneration, Wise took comfort in his family and in music. Immediately following his release Wise lived with some family from upstate New York. While staying with them, he worked through his emotions.
“They were like therapists,” he said.
Wise also cited music as one of his biggest releases.
“Hip-hop is empowerment. Hip hop is self improvement,” he said. “Even in my home I just try listening to hip-hop and being hip-hop to keep a smile on my face.”
Wise concluded by answering a question regarding his portrayal in “When They See Us.” Describing what it was like to see himself portrayed on film, Wise said:
“ very hard. I don’t see it everyday. Most weeks I don’t see it at all, but when I do see it I don’t process it.”
After the event Taylor West, WSA vice president and one of the event’s organizers, said that bringing Wise to WMU is one of the most exciting moments of her time as a student.
“It was so emotional,” she said. “Seeing how many people actually showed up, listening to him, it was amazing.”