'Central Park Five' Documentary Stirs Controversy Before Release

 @Justine__Ashley
on November 13 2012 11:26 AM

The eye-opening new documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns is a sore subject for those who helped put five innocent men behind bars. 

"Central Park Five" focuses on the horrific 1989 central park jogger case: 28-year-old Trisha Meilli was brutally beaten, raped, and left for dead while jogging in New York City's Central Park. Meilli's condition following the attack left her with no memory of the crime and she was therefore unable to identify who was responsible for the assault.  

A year later, five African American teens were convicted of the crime and remained in prison until 2002, when Matias Reyes, who was serving a life sentence for rape and murder, confessed to the attack. DNA evidence confirmed Reyes was the sole perpetrator in the case. 

The film exposes the flaws in the legal system that put the five innocent men behind bars, including the allegation that they were forced to confess to the crime, leaving a dangerous criminal on the streets. It also delves into the effect the crime had American culture and how it changed the perception of New York City. 

Through interviews with the wrongly convicted men and members of the press, who experienced the media frenzy surrounding the crime, the film is a disturbing portrait of injustice. 

By the time the men were cleared of the charges, most of them had already served their full sentences. 

According to CBS news, for the past eight years each of the men have been seeking $50 million in damages from the city of New York. As a result, the city has requested that Burns provide them with the footage of the interviews he conducted for the film. The site reports that the director is unwilling to do so and is using the state's shield law, which protects those consulted for stories by journalists, as his defense. 

Deadline reports that the legal battle will not affect the film's Nov. 23 release. The site also notes that Burns, along with his co-filmmakers David McMahon and Sarah Burns, filed a 27-page memorandum that protests the city's efforts and accuses law enforcement officials of attempting to boost their defense. 

"Thus far, the city's rationale for the subpoena has amounted to nothing more than hope and speculation that the outtakes may contain material useful to defendants," reads the motion. "They have not limited the subpoena to any specific issue of likely relevance in this case."

In a Monday interview with Gayle King and Charlie Rose, Burns said that the subpoena only delays the justice that the men are entitled to. 

"After 13 years of justice denied - which everyone agrees on - there's suddenly now justice delayed, which we know is just justice denied." 

Burns has earned various accolades throughout his 25-year career. He received Oscar nominations in both 1982 and 1986 for "Brooklyn Bridge" and "The Statue of Liberty." 

Other notable films include "The Civil War" (1990), "Jazz" (2004), and "Prohibition" (2011).

"The Central Park Five" will hit select cities on Nov. 23 and will air on PBS early next year. 

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