★★★ out of four stars • Unrated but includes adult themes.
In the 1989 Central Park Jogger case, a white female investment banker was found near death, brutally assaulted and raped. The outrage became a lightning rod for New York City's racial tribalism and law-and-order anxieties.
Five black teenagers were interrogated past the point of exhaustion by police, coerced into confessing to a crime they did not commit, tried by a hysterical press, railroaded through the legal system and imprisoned despite a lack of DNA evidence and contradictory, inconsistent confessions. Ten years ago the real culprit confessed, and the convictions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were vacated. Now comes a documentary account of their ordeal, carefully reported, soberly thoughtful -- and 20 years too late.
Ken Burns, the PBS documentary legend ("The Civil War"), working with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and her husband, David McMahon, unpacks what former mayor Ed Koch calls "the crime of the century." The film weaves emotional archival footage into interviews with all five of the wrongfully convicted men, their lawyers, supporters, sociologists, journalists and the one juror who believed they were innocent but ultimately caved in to group pressure. It's instructive to see a much younger Donald Trump and Al Sharpton marshaling public opinion on opposite sides of the case, regrettable that the police and prosecutors declined to participate. (The accused men's lawsuit against the city is pending.) This is bitterly revealing work, but tragically belated. I hope that their innocence receives the same attention as their presumed guilt.