Ken Burns Film Examines 1989 Jogger Case

Ken Burns' new movie in theaters is The Central Park Five. Five black and Latino teenagers admitted to the rape and beating of a white jogger and served prison sentences. But a startling confession in 2002 by a convicted murderer and rapist whose DNA was present at the crime scene led a judge to overturn their convictions.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The story of another brutal crime is coming to movie screens, courtesy of Ken Burns, the man best-known for PBS documentaries on jazz, baseball and the Civil War. Burns' new film is titled "The Central Park Five."

Here's film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: In 1989, New York Mayor Ed Koch didn't shrink from calling it the crime of the century.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: In New York City this morning, a jogger is fighting for her life after a brutal attack in Central Park.

TURAN: The story of the beating and rape of a white Central Park jogger erupted across the country, with a one newscaster talking angrily about evildoers who blazed a nighttime trail of terror.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Assaulted an elderly man...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Wilding. New York City police say that's new teenage slang for rampaging in wolf packs...

TURAN: But as it turns out, everything everyone thought was wrong. This is the devastating premise of "The Central Park Five." It's a film that projects equal parts fury and despair, as it shows how individuals were caught in the unforgiving gears of the criminal justice system. Black and white racial politics and naked fear played a part as well.

Here's reporter and columnist Jim Dwyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE")

JIM DWYER: I look back on the jogger case and wish I had been more skeptical as a journalist. You know, a lot of people didn't do their jobs - reporters, police, prosecutors, defense lawyers. This was a proxy war being fought. And these young men were the proxies for all kinds of other agendas.

TURAN: Five black and Latino teenagers admitted to the rape and beating and served prison sentences ranging from six to 13 years. But out of nowhere, a startling confession in 2002 by a convicted murderer and rapist - whose DNA was present at the crime scene - led a judge to overturn their convictions.

"The Central Park Five" also serves as a cinematic primer on what has become a disturbing aspect of our criminal justice system: the ability and the willingness of police to psychologically manipulate people into confessing to things they have not done.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: They had made up a story saying something like, Well, we have your prints on her pants. I'm thinking, how did they take my prints and put it on her pants?

TURAN: Tellingly, no one from either the New York City police or the district attorney's office was willing to go on camera and defend their conduct.

The unjustly accused men have filed a lawsuit which is pending. But financial gain is not the point here. As one of them says: No money could bring that time back, no money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That's film critic Kenneth Turan. You can hear him here MORNING EDITION. He also reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.