On this day in 1989, a 28-year-old female investment banker is severely beaten and sexually assaulted while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Five teenagers from Harlem were convicted of the crime, which shocked New Yorkers for its randomness and viciousness and became emblematic of the perceived lawlessness of the city at the time. The case was also racially divisive, as the teens were black and Hispanic and the victim was white.
The “Central Park jogger,” as she became known in the media, was discovered by passerby in a muddy ravine, her skull smashed and near death, hours after she went for a jog in the park around 9 p.m. After being rescued, she spent nearly two weeks in a coma, but surprised doctors by eventually recovering from most of her injuries. However, she remembered nothing about the near-fatal attack or the events leading up to it. Police quickly charged five male teens with the crime; four made videotaped confessions, while implicating a fifth suspect. The teens were part of a larger group of youths who had been roaming Central Park on the night of April 19, robbing and beating people.
The public became familiar with a new term, “wilding,” to describe the gang’s random, violent rampage. The teens charged in the Central Park jogger attack soon claimed their confessions had been coerced by the police; however, the five were convicted in two separate trials in 1990, and received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years. Then, in 2002, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, already behind bars, came forward to confess he had attacked the Central Park jogger when he was 17 and had acted alone. DNA evidence later confirmed his rape claim.
In December 2002, the convictions of the five men originally charged in the case were overturned. The men later filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against New York City, which have not been settled. In 2003, the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, publicly revealed her identity by publishing a book about her ordeal. In the years after the attack, she became a motivational speaker and advocate for victims of sexual assault and brain injury.