Dec 13, 2019 – Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Friday cautioned detectives investigating the murder of a Barnard College student to tread lightly to avoid repeating mistakes that led to the Central Park Five scandal.
Brewer issued her warning hours after the NYPD announced that a 13-year-old boy had been arrested in connection with the murder of Barnard freshman Tessa Majors, who was stabbed to death Wednesday evening while jogging near the campus down the steps of Morningside Park. A second suspect was later arrested.
Brewer, a Columbia University graduate who took classes at Barnard and taught there years later, said she wants to be sure there are no false arrests.
“I have no clue as to who is with him,” Brewer said about the suspect. “No one is supposed to be confessing without someone with him, a lawyer, a guardian, a parent. I don’t know. There are just more questions than answers. Who was with a 13 year old, and how would he confess so fast? We need a lot more information before we believe anything.”
Brewer was referring to “confessions” that doomed five Harlem teens accused of raping a jogger in in 1989.
The confessions were the strongest pieces of evidence against Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson. Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam, who were convicted and served various sentences for the crime. They said the confessions were coerced.
The convictions of the Central Park five were later overturned when a prison inmate, Matias Reyes confessed, to the rape, and DNA evidence backed up his account.
They received a $41 million wrongful conviction payout from the city, and quietly pocketed an additional $3.9 million in a 2016 settlement with the state.
Brewer said she doesn’t want to see that happen again.
A Barnard student shared her concern.
Heven, who did not want to give her last name, said the Barnard campus is saddened but also wary of what will happen after the arrest of the 13-year-old suspect.
We’re worried about the Harlem community, black and brown people,” Heven said. “We don’t want this to become politicized. We don’t want this to be like another Central Park Five.”
An NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Brewer’s concerns.
A source said the boy was with his uncle at the precinct. The source said the suspect waived his Miranda right before he started talking.
“It’s such a high profile situation,” Brewer said. “ You want to make sure you have the right individual and not pin it on the wrong person. We want to be careful, particularly given our history.”