Donald Trump still believes the ‘Central Park Five’ are guilty

Central Park Five: Donald Trump in 1989. (Photo: Neil Schneider / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
Donald Trump, June 12, 1989. (Photo: Neil Schneider/© NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

It’s been 14 years since the young men known as the Central Park Five had their convictions vacated for the brutal rape and assault of a female jogger that rocked New York City in 1989, yet Donald Trump remains convinced of their guilt.

“They admitted they were guilty,” Trump told CNN this week of Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise, who ranged in age from 14 to 16 when they were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the attack that left the 28-year-old victim in a coma for 12 days.

The young men have long maintained their innocence and claimed that police coerced them into providing false confessions that lead to their convictions in 1990. In 2002, a convicted rapist and murderer named Matias Reyes confessed to the gruesome attack, and after an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney revealed DNA evidence linking Reyes to the victim, the Central Park Five were exonerated.

Still, the Republican presidential nominee argued, “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty.”

“The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous,” Trump told CNN. “And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”

Long before he became the self-described “law and order candidate,” Trump was a vocal proponent for the harsh punishment of those responsible for this particular crime.

Less than two weeks after the attack, Trump took out a full-page ad in four of New York City’s major newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty.

Central Park Five: Donald Trump's "Bring back the death penalty" ad in the Daily News.
Trump’s “Bring back the death penalty” ad in the Daily News, May 1, 1989. (Photo: Via the New York Daily News)

“Mayor [Ed] Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers,” read part of the 600-word ad, which bore the headline “Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” and Trump’s signature at the bottom. “They should be forced to suffer … How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

Though he did not mention anyone in particular, lawyers for the five black and Hispanic teenagers argued that Trump’s ad unfairly created a negative perception of the suspects in the eyes of the public and prospective jurors.

“I think Donald Trump at the very least owes a real apology to this community and to the young men and their families,” attorney Michael Warren told the New York Times in 2002 while the young men awaited their exoneration.

An investigation by Manhattan’s district attorney concluded that the new evidence could have changed the verdict and recommended their charges be vacated. At the time, supporters of the so-called Central Park Five protested outside Trump Tower in Manhattan.

But the businessman was unfazed. “I don’t mind if they picket,” Trump told the Times. “I like pickets.”

In 2003, the five men filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City for wrongful arrest, racial discrimination, malicious prosecution and emotional distress. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg fought the suit, but his successor, Bill de Blasio, agreed to resolve it in 2014 with a $41 million settlement — awarding each of the men approximately $1 million for each year they were imprisoned before their convictions were vacated.

Once again, Trump made clear that his opinion on the case remained unchanged.