Matias Reyes confessed, finally exonerating the Central Park Five, twelve years after he let a group of Black teenage boys take the fall for his heinous attack on Trisha Meili.
When Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was discovered raped and beaten into a coma while jogging in Central Park in 1989, cops frantically searched for suspects. Five black teenagers : Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, and Yusef Salaam were seen loitering in the Central Park around the same period
The young group was forced to confess to a crime they did not commit, demonized by the media, and imprisoned. It took 12 years for the true perpetrator, Matias Reyes, to come forward.
Matias Reyes, a first-generation Puerto Rican, was living out of his van when he attacked Meili. Reyes worked as a bodega clerk in Harlem during the day and was a serial rapist at night. He was eventually convicted of an unrelated murder and confessed to the rape of Meili while serving life in prison, exonerating the Central Park teenagers after some of them had been imprisoned for over a decade.
When They See Us, a Netflix docuseries, chronicles how the standardization of DNA evidence and Matias Reyes’ confession paved the way for the five boys’ exoneration in 2002.
“It was the right thing to do,” Reyes said when asked why he finally came clean.
The Bizarre Crime Reyes Got Away With
Trisha Meili was raped and nearly killed in Central Park on April 18, 1989, between the hours of 9 and 10 p.m. Passers-by discovered her half-naked and blood-soaked body four hours later.
Doctors initially predicted that she would die as a result of her injuries. Her skull was fractured, she was cold, and she had lost 75% of her blood.
Meanwhile, 14-year-olds Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson were detained at the Central Park police precinct for “unlawful assembly” during the hours Meili was attacked. Authorities said a group of 30 to 40 teens were harassing and assaulting locals, and Santana and Richardson were arrested amid the chaos.
When Meili was discovered near death hours later, they were still detained.
The media frenzy surrounding her death was instantaneous, and the NYPD anticipated that the case would explode at dawn, so they made a series of promising arrests. As a result, on April 20, they arrested Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise, all 15 years old.
Santana later recalled being threatened with life in prison if he did not confess to attacking Meili, despite the fact that he had no idea who she was or what had happened to her. Despite the fact that they were innocent, the police interrogated the five boys. The teens were forced to confess to a crime they had no knowledge of after being deprived of sleep for 14 to 30 hours.
Their own words were used to charge them with attempted murder, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, first-degree sexual abuse, two counts of first-degree assault, and first-degree riot.
It was too late for the five teenagers to retract their statements. It would take another 12 years to get them out of this criminal trap.
His Numerous Violent Crimes in New York
Matias Reyes’ life was filled with adversity from the start. According to an interview with a prison psychologist, he was born in Puerto Rico in 1971 and moved to New York City as an infant with his mother.
When he was two years old, he was allegedly sold to his father for $400. He claimed that when he was seven, two older children sexually abused him and threw him into a river.
“Even as a child growing up in the school system, he exhibited violent behavior,” said Reyes’ attorney, Richard Siracusa. “He appeared perfectly normal to the average person, but he was far from normal.”
Matias Reyes was only 17 years old when he attempted to rape someone for the first time. His 27-year-old target, Jackie Herbach, who he was holding at knife-point, talked him out of it. His next known rape attempt occurred on April 17, 1989, in the same park, Trisha Meili’s was the victim.
Reyes assaulted a 26-year-old woman and beat her into a prone position in order to sexually assault her, but he fled when a passerby noticed him. Then, on that April night in 1989, he attacked Meili. Meanwhile, the Central Park Five were subjected to two separate trials that resulted in their imprisonment in October 1990.
Reyes, determined to remain quiet in the aftermath of his attack on Meili, didn’t assault anyone again until June, when he resumed his spree with a vengeance.
Lourdes Gonzalez, a 24-year-old mother of three, was his only known murder victim. Reyes broke into her apartment, dragged her into the bedroom, and locked the door behind them. He raped her and stabbed her in the stomach while she was pregnant.
Before Reyes fled, the woman’s three children listened to the entire ordeal through the bedroom door. Lourdes dialed 911 but passed away on her way to the elevator. She’d been stabbed nine times, including once in the face. Later, one of her sons recalled hearing Reyes say:
“I’ll either take your eyes or your children.”
Reyes assaulted a woman known only as “Meg” by invading her apartment in August 5, that year, four months after he assaulted Meili. Fortunately, she was able to flee to the building lobby in only a towel and receive assistance.
Matias Reyes was finally apprehended after two good Samaritans held him down in the hallway while they waited for the cops.
The Admission That Set The Central Park Five Free
Matias Reyes confessed to the murder of Lourdes Gonzalez while being held for the attempted rape and murder of “Meg.”
According to Mike Sheehan, the detective who interrogated Reyes for six hours, Reyes denied raping Gonzalez and instead chillingly claimed, “We made love.” Later, two more victims came forward to confirm that Reyes stabbed them in the face before letting them go.
Despite the fact that Sheehan had conducted more than 20 homicide interviews by this point, he described Reyes as one of the “top five lunatics” he had ever sat across from.
In December 2002, Reyes was offered a plea bargain of 33.5 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole, which he accepted.
He miraculously met Korey Wise of the Central Park Five while incarcerated in two different prisons. They’d even fought over a prison television set once.
Though Reyes had remained silent about assaulting Meili during his confession with Sheehan, his encounters with Wise appeared to have jolted his conscience. After 12 years of keeping his secret, Reyes finally revealed the truth to investigators.
“I know it’s difficult for people to understand why, after 12 years, a person would come forward to accept responsibility for a crime,” he said. “At first, I was scared, but at the end of the day, I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Authorities believed his confession was genuine. He had intimate knowledge of the crime scene that only a perpetrator could have, and there was also the issue of DNA at the scene, which had not matched any of the Central Park Five.
Following Reyes’ confession in January 2002, his DNA was compared to that of the sperm found at the scene. It was a match that finally identified Meili’s attacker. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations on that crime had expired, so he was never formally charged with it.
On December 19, 2002, New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada exonerated the Central Park Five based on his confession and DNA evidence. Because they had all already served their sentences, with Wise serving the longest at 12 years, the only benefit was having their criminal record expunged.
Furthermore, the Central Park Five successfully sued the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, resulting in a $41 million settlement that brought a just conclusion to the otherwise harrowing story of Matias Reyes and the Central Park Jogger case.
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- Pitt, David E. (April 22, 1989). “Jogger’s Attackers Terrorized at Least 9 in 2 Hours”. The New York Times. ISSN0362-4331. Retrieved July 12, 2020.