As the Central Park Jogger Struggles to Heal, Three Attackers Hear the Bell Toll for Them
09/03/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT
For 10 interminable days of jury deliberations, New York City awaited the resolution of one of the most vicious crimes in its memory: the brutal beating and gang rape of a woman jogger left near death 16 months ago in a pool of her own blood. Then, on a smoggy evening in August that seemed to cast a stifling blanket over the city, the drama suddenly came to an end. Three teenage defendants—Antron McCray, 16, Yusef Salaam, 16, and Raymond Santana, 15—were found guilty of rape and six lesser charges. Although they were acquitted of attempted murder, the youths face a maximum juvenile-offender sentence of five to 10 years. Though supporters of the defendants protested the verdicts, for most New Yorkers the Central Park jogger trial had finally provided the balm of justice.
Until the moment of the verdict, that had not been assured. The 10-man, two-woman panel, composed of four whites, four blacks, three Hispanics and an Asian-American, seemed at times hopelessly divided. When their work was done, the jurors recalled tense hours of deliberations punctuated by shouting and name-calling. Once, in exasperation, an angry juror had kicked a chair against the wall. "We were all basket cases at the end," says Charles Nestorick, 36, a customer service representative for New York Telephone. "It was physically and mentally draining. I had nightmares." Early on, Harold Brueland, 47, a New York State social services worker and himself a runner, negotiated to have the jury's five smokers placed at one end of the room but still found himself snarling at fellow jurors he felt were crowding him. "I lost my temper once," says Migdalia Fuentes, 39, a secretary for UNICEF. "The men just pounded on the table, and they were yelling at the top of their lungs at each other." Adds jury foreman Earle Fisher, 69, a retired civil service employee: "It was long and stressful, and if I had my way, I'd never do it again."
The jury was well aware of the scrutiny awaiting their verdict. There were 3,254 forcible rapes reported in New York City in 1989. But in its singular brutality and attendant publicity, this one seemed to stand alone. Since the victim, a 30-year-old Wall Street investment banker, was white, and the three defendants were black and Hispanic, the case was immediately overtaken by the politics of race. Well before the trial began, conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan suggested that one of the attackers should be publicly hanged. During the proceedings, the inescapable Rev. Al Sharpton heaved his considerable bulk before the cameras to claim that the defendants were being railroaded because of their race. In a revoltingly cynical display, he invited his protégée Tawana Brawley—a young black woman whose claim that she had been raped by whites was rejected by a grand jury two years ago—to the courthouse to bestow a smile and a handshake on the accused rapists. Even the pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, Rev. Calvin Butts, proclaimed, "There's no evidence to link them to the rape. We have compassion for the jogger. But we don't believe these youths did it."
The jurors found otherwise. There was no physical evidence linking any of the accused to the rape. But McCray and Santana, while denying they had had sex with the victim, admitted, in writing and on videotape, to taking part in the attack. Defense lawyers argued that their clients had been coerced into reciting lines fed to them by police. But since the statements provided details that detectives could not have known at the time, that contention proved unconvincing.
Salaam, who had refused to sign a statement or talk on tape, was given the best chance of going free. The only evidence against him was the word of a detective who testified that Salaam had confessed to hitting the jogger with a pipe. But then the teenager's lawyer, in what jurors later described as a crucial error, put his client on the stand. With surly arrogance, Salaam told an implausible tale of entering the park with a crowd of about 50 youths, then losing track of them and spending most of the evening wandering alone. But even by his own account, he had carried a 12-inch pipe into the park. "I thought it would be fun," he testified. What sort of fun, he declined to say.
If the evidence was persuasive that the boys had attacked the jogger, it could not begin to explain why. All three had parents who had struggled, they say, to keep their children on the straight and narrow, only to lose them to the streets. Antron McCray's father, Bobby, 35, works as a parking garage manager; his mother, Linda, a nursery school aide, carried a canvas bag to court emblazoned with the maxim THE FAMILY THAT PRAYS TOGETHER, STAYS TOGETHER. His lawyer claims that Antron had always been respectful. On the evening of the attack, he hurried back to his neighborhood because he was with a friend whose mother wanted him home by 10.
Santana's father, Raymond Sr., 39, has labored 23 years as a hospital aide to provide for his son. He says Raymond was "upset" when his mother was placed in a mental institution several years ago but that he earned Bs in school and hoped to be an art teacher. Raymond Sr. is concerned about the effect of a juvenile detention center on his son. "He might learn the bad habits of the other kids," says the elder Santana. "There's some bad ones over there."
Yusef Salaam's college-educated mother, Sharonne, who was divorced about 10 years ago, teaches fashion design at Manhattan's Parsons School. Yusef is also artistically talented, she says, and he has lately been composing a rap song about the jogger trial as he lies awake at night. "He attacked no one. He raped no one. I can say that with good conscience," insists Sharonne, who refers to the three convicted boys as the "victims." She calls her son "a quiet boy...just like the boy next door," but admits that he has been changed by the trial. "I don't think he's more fearful of whites," she says, "but he's not the trusting soul he was when he was picked up by the police that night."
The ordeal is expected to be replayed this fall when the remaining three youths charged in the attack go on trial.
—J.D. Podolsky, Victoria Balfour, Maria Eftimiades and Sabrina McFarland in New York City