Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Central Park Revisited

Sheehan spent six hours getting to know Reyes. The detective described how they shared roots in East Harlem. Pretty soon, Reyes was calling him Mikey. Sheehan further bonded with Reyes over an unhappy similarity. "Nobody does rape for the sex," Sheehan says. "It's a crime of violence. They're lashing out. A lot because they were victims of some kind of sexual abuse. I said to Reyes, 'We're all guys in this room. Nobody is gonna embarrass anybody. I guarantee you that something really bad happened to you as a kid.' He starts looking down. I say, 'I know, because something really bad happened to me as a kid.' 'To you?' he says. I tell him, 'I wasn't always this size, I wasn't always a detective. A lot of crazy stuff happens in this city. I'll tell you what happened -- and I'll even go first, and then you tell me what happened to you. Is that fair? Something did happen to you, right?' He says, 'Maybe.' "

Sheehan, a master empathizer, told Reyes how, at the age of 12, he needed to use a subway bathroom and was cornered by a pervert. "All of a sudden," Sheehan says, "Reyes's whole face is getting red, he's squinting, he's digging his fingers into the table." When it came time for Reyes to describe his own shame, Sheehan reassured him and at the same time cracked Reyes's resistance. "I said, 'I'm not gonna run out on the street and tell people Matias Reyes got raped. Maybe it was even a relative.' The guy went wild, cursing. Now he's totally discombobulated." From there, it was a short trip to Reyes's admission that he killed Lourdes Gonzalez.

Reyes gave no hint he had anything to do with the Central Park jogger attack. "This was not a guy to have sex as part of a group of people," Sheehan says, trying to explain why he didn't think to ask Reyes about the Central Park jogger. "Totally different M.O. This guy was a hostage taker. He wanted total control, by himself. And as he told me, describing what he did with Lourdes Gonzalez, 'We made love.' Not like 'I fucked her.' It was 'I made love. In the sleeping room.' The park was not his thing. Obviously, now we know he was there. But there was no reason to suspect him in that case at all."

In Sheehan's account of the Central Park interrogations, the police officers never raised their voices, let alone their fists. The detectives were so concerned with proper procedure, Sheehan says, that they moved the suspects from the 20th to the 24th Precinct so that they would be videotaped according to regulations, in a designated "youth room." Coercion? Just the opposite, Sheehan says: When Santana spontaneously started describing the attack on the jogger, Sheehan says he told the boy to wait until Raymond Santana Sr. arrived.

Detective Tom McKenna was more active. The 21-year veteran falsely told Yusef Salaam that fingerprints had been found on the jogger's clothes. "Salaam looks at me and says, 'I was there, but I didn't rape her,' " McKenna recalls. "We are allowed, by law, to use guile and ruse, and we do. People only give things up when you tell 'em you got 'em. But to frame somebody and leave the right son-of-a-bitch out in the street? I'm irate anyone would infer that."

Nor has Sheehan lost any sleep over the convictions. "I used to lie awake at night thinking about cases we had over the years: I hope to God we have the right guy," he says. "That's your biggest fear: You never want to put an innocent person in jail. Mother of God! I didn't worry much on this one. Because they're telling us where they were. They are telling us -- the sequence may be off, but they're essentially telling us the same stuff. They remember a guy they beat and took his food, they remember hitting this guy running around the reservoir. They went through all of these things, each kid. And they also tell you about the jogger. And they place people, so you have a mental picture of where they were around this woman's body. And their parents are with them, not only in the interviews but in the videotape, for the record. That's enough for me. I'm satisfied."

Three of the Central Park defendants lived in Schomburg Plaza, an apartment complex at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. Bill Perkins was president of the Schomburg tenants' association then, and since 1997 he's been a city councilman. Perkins has remained close to the families, and when he read of Reyes's confession in June -- Reyes says a religious awakening prompted him to come forward; the statute of limitations on the jogger case had expired -- Perkins consulted with the families, then called his old friend Michael Warren. Warren enlisted as co-counsel Roger Wareham, 53, a leader in the slavery-reparations movement.

This summer, Warren and Wareham sent a private investigator, Earl Rawlins, upstate to interview Reyes. Rawlins returned with detailed written and audiotaped revelations that form the backbone of the motion to dismiss the Central Park convictions (Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise are represented by two other attorneys who've filed parallel actions). But Warren isn't resting on Reyes's confession. He knows that the D.A.'s office could argue that it has acknowledged all along that some of the jogger's attackers escaped, and that finding Reyes's semen on the jogger's sock doesn't invalidate the videotaped confessions. So Warren is reviving the old doubts about the validity of the confessions. "To the extent that the parents were present at that time, it's really insignificant in terms of trying to assert that the parents voluntarily knew what was going on and agreed to it," Warren says. "That's just not the case. And the videotaping is the last stage of this process. At that point, the children will say whatever they've been scripted to say."

He's also trying to punch new holes in the original police investigations. "We know that Mike Sheehan had to be aware that there was an unidentified DNA sample," Warren says. "And we know that he, along with a couple of other detectives, suggested or requested that Reyes's DNA be compared to four cases that Reyes admitted to. And there was a match. All these things should have triggered his concern that 'hey, maybe we should attempt to try to get a match on this specimen in the Central Park case.' He didn't do it. It's more than laziness. They had a nice clean ribbon that they had tied around all five boys. And they didn't want to interfere with that."

Sheehan says he knew nothing of the Central Park DNA until the first trial, in June 1990. Even if he did, why would Sheehan avoid implicating a possible sixth jogger assailant? "Why didn't they do it in the Scottsboro case?" Warren says. "For the same reason: Convicting these boys was the easiest route to take."

Warren's other clients have included Amadou Diallo's family; Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman; El Sayyid Nosair, the assassin of Jewish extremist Meir Kahane; and Tupac Shakur, when he was charged with sexual abuse. "The thread is injustice, whether it be in the criminal sphere or the civil sphere, involving wrongful conduct by the police," he says. "I come out of a movement that's involved in addressing injustices." As a college student, Warren was expelled for allegedly threatening a college president during a union-organizing rally, but he was reinstated the following spring thanks to William Kunstler, who filed suit on Warren's behalf. "We molded a friendship," Warren says. "Little did I know that I would be trying cases with Bill later on."