The Republican nominee declined to apologize when asked by CNN this week about his role as what one of the wrongfully convicted men, Yusuf Salaam, has called “the fire starter” for mobilizing public sentiment against the so-called Central Park 5.
Instead, Trump issued a statement saying, “They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that the case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Trump’s critics have pointed to his persistent attacks on the exonerated minority individuals as evidence that his racially inflammatory stances predate the 2016 campaign.
The five then-teenagers, four of whom are black and one of whom is Latino, were arrested for the crime in the spring of 1989. Two weeks after the arrests, Trump famously took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the perpetrators to be given the death penalty.
Instead, the five suspects were given sentences ranging from five to 15 years for the crime, which they confessed to under extreme duress. Psychological research has confirmed that vulnerable suspects, like teenagers, sometimes make false confessions in order to appease aggressive law enforcement interrogators who prevent them from sleeping, deprive them of contact with others and ask leading questions.
In 2002, after serial rapist Mattias Reyes confessed to being the sole perpetrator of the attack and his DNA was found to be be a match with DNA found at the crime scene, their sentences were reversed. The five men sued New York City and settled for $41 million in 2014, a decision that Trump called a “disgrace" at the time.