On April 19, 1989 a white female jogger was attacked and raped in Center Park, NY. The jogger was twenty-eight-year-old investment banker, Trisha Meili. The attack on the female jogger left her in a coma for 12 days. Five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were wrongfully convicted of the attack, each one sentence ranged from five to fifteen years. Five years prior to the Central Park Five another individual by the name of Ronald Cotton was wrongful convicted of the rape of twenty-two year-old college senior Jennifer Thompson Cannino.
Ronald Cotton spent over ten years in prison before DNA evidence pardoned him of any and all wrong doing. Ronald was thirty-two upon his release. Were these wrongful conviction of these individuals a case of racism or just a case of mistaken identity that was fueled by the horrific rape charges of both these cases? Ronald Cotton and the Central Park Five were already guilty in the eyes of the law. On July 29th, 1984, Jennifer Thompson woke to a stranger in her room, who proceeded to brutally rape her, with a knife close to her throat.
Jennifer stayed as calm as possible, trying to identify her attacker to ID him to the police once she escaped. Eventually Jennifer managed to escape and informed the police department. When presented with a small number of suspects that the police department had identified, Jennifer picked Ronald Cotton. Ronald Cotton was informed of the charges and actually went to the police station to clear his name. Ronald already had a less-than-desirable record with the police which could have played a role in his conviction. Not only was Ronald Cotton a young black male but already had a criminal record for a mistake he did when he was only a kid.
Nonetheless, based on that fact alone the jury will see Ronald in a different light and will have an impact on the verdict. The same could also be said for all five individuals of the central park five. Prior to the conviction of all five, Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Yusef Salaam, 15, Antron McCray, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, also confessed to — “chasing after bicyclists, assaulting pedestrians, and (in two separate incidents) pummeling two men into unconsciousness with a metal pipe, stones, punches, and kicks to the head. these confessions were caught on tape.
The press coverage surrounding the case made things worse, being able to spread the event and fueling the clear racism that was present in 1884. There was another rape at this time, an African American women was raped and thrown off a roof. This was not covered by the media but the rape of a twenty-eight-year-old white women spread like wild fire. The coverage of the case, the individuals being minorities and having broken the law before, were seen guilty before their trails even began.
Ronald Cotton finds by chance, the real Rapist, truly a case of mistaken identity. Keeping great willpower and praying to god, Ronald Cotton spent an eleven-year nightmare, being transferred from prison to prison, occasionally living in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. In prison he met an inmate, serving time for the same crimes. His name was Bobby Poole, not only did Bobby Poole resembled Cotton in appearance he even bragged to fellow inmates of the time Ronald is serving instead of him. Cotton requested that he and Poole go back to court to appeal his innocence.
Unfortunately, Jennifer, along with another woman who was also assaulted the same night, again chose Cotton as her rapist and he was sentenced to two life sentences plus fifty-four years. This shows Jennifer was completely sure that the man that raped her was Ronald Cotton, it was a case of Mistaken Identity and the witness is the victim, her testimony is what keeps Ronald in prison. Not the color of his skin. The same exact situation presented itself in the central park five, an individual by name of Matias Reyes, a Hispanic male, confessed to the attack that left twenty-eight-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili in a twelve day coma.
DNA evidence proved he was the perpetrator. Another case of Mistaken Identity. If I was there during these trails and only knew just as much as the Public in New York or North Carolina knew at this time, I would honestly without doubt would be against these men. Both of these cases had witnesses. Yes, Trisha Meili couldn’t remember anything from her attack but she also couldn’t say those five individual were the ones who attacked her or not and the central park five confessed to the attack (not knowing all five testimonies were coerced by law enforcement) and Jennifer Thompson picked Ronald Cotton twice as her attacker.
All this evidence brought up against these innocent men would have lead me to think what any human being would have been lead to believe, That these men were guilty of the crimes they supposedly committed. The justice system is not a sure/perfect system which makes you think just how many innocent men or women have been wrongfully convicted because of the color of their skin or have been mistaken for the actual perpetrator.