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The Central Park Five

Airs Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 9 p.m. & Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 12 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: In a courtroom rendering from the first Central Park Jogger trial, prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer examines victim Tricia Meili as defendants Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray listen.

"The Central Park Five," a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

Courtesy of Daily News/Getty Images

April 21, 1989 front page of the New York Daily News.

Courtesy of Daily News/Getty Images

Yusef Salaam walks into court flanked by police and press.

Courtesy of Daily News/Getty Images

Korey Wise (right) in court.

Courtesy of Simon Luethi

The Central Park Five: (L to R) Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray taken November 15, 2012.

Join The Discussion

The story of the Central Park Five raises important questions about race and class, the failings of our criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and basic human rights. Join the conversation and share your thoughts.

Filmmakers Interview

Q&A with the filmmakers Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns.

On April 20, 1989, the body of a woman barely clinging to life was discovered in Central Park. Within days, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise confessed to her rape and beating after many hours of aggressive interrogation at the hands of seasoned homicide detectives.

The police announced to a press hungry for sensational crime stories that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out “wilding,” assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening.

The ensuing media frenzy was met with a public outcry for justice. The young men were tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected any of them to the victim.

The five served their complete sentences, between 6 and 13 years, before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, admitted to the crime, and DNA testing supported his confession.

Set against the backdrop of a city beset by violence and facing deepening rifts between races and classes, "The Central Park Five" intertwines the stories of these five young men, the victim, police officers and prosecutors, and Matias Reyes, unraveling the forces behind the wrongful convictions. The film illuminates how law enforcement, social institutions and media undermined the very rights of the individuals they were designed to safeguard and protect.

“This is a radical departure for me as a filmmaker,” said Ken Burns. “Eschewing narration, bringing in many new stylistic elements — I think the intensity of the circumstances, and the political and tragic implications absolutely demanded that we implement an intensified discussion. What I think adds to our story is the humanity of the five young men who are at its center, especially because no one was willing to do that during the original media coverage and trial.”

“This case is a lens through which we can understand the ongoing fault-line of race in America,” said Sarah Burns, who also wrote "The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding," (Knopf, 2011). “These young men were convicted long before the trial, by a city blinded by fear and, equally, freighted by race. They were convicted because it was all too easy for people to see them as violent criminals simply because of the color of their skin.”

“Ultimately 'The Central Park Five' is about human dignity,” said David McMahon. “It is about five young men who lose their youth but maintain their dignity in the face of an horrific and unimaginable situation.”

In 2002, based upon Matias Reyes’s confession, a judge vacated the original convictions of the Central Park Five. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. That lawsuit remains unresolved.

Among those interviewed in the film are: The Central Park Five and members of their families; New York City Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins; journalists Jim Dwyer, Natalie Byfield and LynNell Hancock; the Reverend Calvin Butts; and historian Craig Steven Wilder.

"The Central Park Five" is on Facebook, and you can follow @KenBurns on Twitter. DVD or Blu-ray copies of this program are available at ShopPBS.org.

Video

Join Ken Burns for a discussion about "The Central Park Five"

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Above: Join filmmakers Ken Burns and Sarah Burns, New York Times Columnist Jim Dwyer and four of the Central Park Five on April 17, 2013 from 6:30-8 PM for a TimesTalks about the issues raised in "The Central Park Five."

Video

Trailer: The Central Park Five

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Above: "The Central Park Five," a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

Video

Central Park Five Overview

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Above: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and Dave McMahon discuss their film, "The Central Park Five."

Video

After the Central Park Five

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Above: The Central Park Five talk about what the film means to them, how they met Sarah Burns, and what the screenings have been like.

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Above: In 2003, a year after their convictions were vacated, The Central Park Five filed a civil rights lawsuit against The City Of New York and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked towards their convictions. In September of 2012 The City Of New York subpoenaed all the materials from "The Central Park Five." In February of 2013 the ruling squashed the subpoena in favor of Florentine Films.

Video

The Central Park Five: New York Wilding

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Above: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon discuss the term, 'wilding.'

Video

The Central Park Five: Crime in New York City

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Above: The Central Park Five describe their lives before April 20, 1989. New Yorkers talk about a city divided between the very rich and the very poor. In 1984 crack cocaine comes to the city and the crime rate soars.

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The Central Park Five: Police Control Story

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Above: The police controlled the story to the news media and for them, all the pieces came into place. Upon closer investigation the time sequence of the jogger's movement do not add up with the police narrative. It does not matter once guilt is established, through the confessions, and they carry the case. Visit http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/ to learn more about The Central Park Five.