Donald Trump Claims People on 'Both Sides' of Central Park Five Culpability, Despite Complete Exoneration

President Donald Trump And First Lady Melania Depart White House For Orlando Rally
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to a departure from the White House June 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested that the innocence of Central Park Five — long exonerated for their involvement in the 1989 rape of a Central Park jogger, for which they received a combined decades in prison — may still be in dispute.

"You have people on both sides of that," he said in response to a question from White House reporter April Ryan, who asked about Trump's infamous full-page ad in the New York Daily News calling for the boys' execution. "They admitted their guilt."

POTUS tells @AprilDRyan he will not apologize for taking out a full page ad calling for the men known as the Central Park Five to get the death penalty. He says people on “both sides” confessed.

The men were exonerated via DNA evidence.

— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) June 18, 2019

Ryan's question was spurred by heightened public scrutiny over the notoriously bungled case, in which New York police obtained coerced confessions from five black and brown youths regarding the rape and assault of a 28-year-old jogger in Central Park, despite their lack of involvement.

Trump has previously taken an unrepentant stance on his 1989 ads calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty only ten days after the assault occurred.

"They admitted they were guilty," he told CNN during the 2016 campaign. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty."

Trump's 1989 ad proclaimed in bolded, all-caps lettering: "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY."

"I want to hate these murderers and I always will," it read. "I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them."

After the actual perpetrator of the crime, a serial rapist serving decades in prison, opened up about his culpability in 2002, evidence used to convict the five was retested and they were subsequently exonerated and released from prison.

In 2014, New York City settled a civil rights lawsuit resulting from the case for $41 million.

Ava DuVernay's new miniseries for Netflix dramatizing the events of the case has brought renewed attention to individuals involved in the prosecution who have largely evaded the spotlight.

Former Manhattan District Attorney's Office prosecutor Linda Fairstein oversaw the prosecution of the five young men, and her depiction in DuVernay's series has inspired a public reckoning with her critical role in their convictions.

At Tuesday's press gaggle, Trump asked Ryan why she wanted to bring the question of his involvement up now.

"It's an interesting time to bring it up," he observed.

Trump added that, "if you look at Linda Fairstein" and some of the other prosecutors on the case, "they think that the city should never have settled."

Fairstein has continued to defend her role in the prosecutions and cast aspersions on the innocence of the five. In 2002, she told the New Yorker that Matias Reyes, the serial rapist who later confessed to the assault, was somehow associated with the young men she helped convict.

"I think Reyes ran with that pack of kids," she told Jeffrey Toobin. "He stayed longer when the others moved on. He completed the assault."

Fairstein claimed that there isn't "a question in the minds of anyone present during the interrogation" that the Central Park Five were involved in both the assault on the jogger and other attacks in the park that night, even though the evidence in the case clearly refutes this theory.

Last year, Fairstein wrote in the New York Law Journal that "the confessions were not coerced," despite some interrogations lasting up to 30 hours.

Since the release of the miniseries she has endured significant fallout in her public life, being dropped by her publisher and having to resign from her positions on various boards.

Most recently, Fairstein composed an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal once more defending her handling of the case.

"Ms. DuVernay's film attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them," she wrote. "None of this is true."

Since becoming touchstones for racial justice, many of the Central Park Five have devoted themselves to civil rights work and educating the public about wrongful convictions.

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts