With Ava DuVernay’s searing four-part series about the Central Park Five landing on Netflix May 31, the figures from the real-life 1990 case will be thrust back into the spotlight. When They See Us gives the holistic, empathetic account of the Central Park Five — the five young men accused of raping a jogger and leaving her for dead — that the media at the time never did.
While the series exclusively focuses on the five teenagers, Trisha Meili is an essential part of the real events. During the fevered coverage of the crime, Meili was known only as “the Central Park Jogger." In 2003, she revealed her identity publicly. Here's what you need to know.
What happened to Trisha Meili?
On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Meili (pronounced MY-lee) went on a run in Central Park after a 12-hour work day working at the Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers. Running was a part of her daily routine routine (Meili later said she had an eating disorder and exercised compulsively at that time in her life).
Hours later, two men found Meili naked, bound, and gagged in a ravine in the 102nd Street Transverse, a wooded area in the northern section of the park. Meili had been severely beaten. Her eye socket was crushed, and she had skull fractures. Doctors at the Metropolitan Hospital didn’t expect her to survive and told her family that if she awoke, she would be a vegetable.
Miraculously, after 12 days in a coma, Meili woke up. She did not remember anything from the attack.
Meili also didn't know that while she was sleeping, a case was being built against five Harlem boys of color, aged 14 to 16, who had been in Central Park that evening with a group of 30 to 40 other teens.
The defendants, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise, maintained their innocence throughout their trials, but were sentenced to between seven and 13 years in prison. However, there was no DNA evidence linking them to Meili's attack. Many believe the police built a case against the boys through coerced confessions.
In 2002, by which point the defendants had served most of their sentences, Matias Reyes, a convicted sex offender serving a life sentence in prison, confessed to the crime. Reyes had carried out a series of violent rapes that summer, including one in Central Park a few days before Meili's attack. His DNA matched the DNA at the crime scene.
Meili stayed out of the spotlight until 2003.
During the trial, the media preserved her anonymity. Meili testified twice, but was referred to only as "the Central Park Jogger."
In 2003, at the age of 42, Meili published the memoir I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility under her own name. She hoped her book would share an inspiring story of resilience: "I thought this would be a good time to say, 'Hey, look. It’s been 20 years, and life doesn’t end after brain injury, after sexual assault or whatever our challenges are,' Meili told the New York Times.
It was a long road to recovery, but she's still running.
In some ways, Meili's forever changed: She lost her sense of smell, experiences double vision, has facial scarring, and struggles with balance. But about three months after the attack, Meili joined the Achilles Track Club, a running group for disabled runners. In 1995, she ran the New York Marathon.
Meili also found happiness. She met her husband, Jim Schwartz, through a set-up in 1995. "A woman I had gone to college with knew him. I told her, 'Do me a favor, don’t tell him my history. That’s my story and I want to be able to tell it if I want to,'” Meili told the New York Times. Meili and Schwartz married in 1996 and reside in Connecticut.
Meili now devotes her life to working with survivors of sexual assault.
After eight months, Meili returned to her job at Salomon Brothers, but in more of an administrative capacity. She left the job in 1998. Now, she speaks to groups about her journey of healing. She also works with survivors of sexual assault at Mount Sinai Hospital and Gaylord Hospital, where did her recovery.
Meili still can't remember anything from that night.
In 2014, the Central Park Five settled their civil lawsuit case with Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City for a sum of $41 million.
Meili has mixed feelings about the settlement. Though she doesn't remember anything from the night, she believes there is medical evidence to back up that she had been attacked by more than one person.
But she recognizes how awfully this tragedy affected others, too. In 2003, after Reyes came forward, Meili spoke about the Central Park Five in an interview with Katie Couric. “If [Reyes] is telling the truth, it’s a horrible thing if innocent people are sent to prison and — it only adds to the tragedy of that evening,” Meili said.