In 1990, five black and Latino teens — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise — were convicted of beating and raping a white, female jogger in Central Park.
Thirteen years later, Justice Charles J. Tejada of State Supreme Court in Manhattan vacated the convictions based on new evidence implicating another man as the sole perpetrator. With their indictments dismissed on the DA’s motion, the five young men brought civil suits against the City of New York seeking damages for their wrongful convictions.
After more than a decade, their civil suits are still pending.
On February 12, 2014, St. John’s Law hosted a panel discussion on The Central Park Five, a documentary by award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon that tells the story of the prosecution, conviction, and exoneration of these young men, who all served full prison sentences. The panel included Professor Leonard M. Baynes, Korey Wise, and one of his attorneys in the civil case, Law School alumna Kaitlin Fleur Nares ’13.
Kaitlin is an associate at Fisher, Byrialsen & Kreizer, PLLC, the firm that represents Korey Wise in his longstanding civil suit. She started on the matter while interning at the firm during her third year at St. John's. Here, she talks to Law School Communications Director Lori Herz about her work on this high profile case.
How did your firm come to represent Korey?
Fisher, Byrialsen & Kreizer is a boutique firm dedicated to civil rights advocacy and representation. In that capacity, we work closely with public defender service organizations that don’t have civil rights units. We met Korey through one of these organizations.
Korey was 16 when convicted, 30 when released from a maximum security prison, and is now 41 and living on Social Security and other public assistance due to permanent disability. How has the timeline of this case, and the milestones along it, shaped your understanding of our criminal justice system?
To put that timeline in clearer perspective, I was a year old when Korey was convicted, entering high school when he was exonerated, and while Korey has been waiting for a just settlement, I’ve earned a college degree, graduated from law school, and was given the honor of assisting with his case. The fact that Korey has been waiting this long is an injustice in and of itself, and it has made me more devoted to advocating for those that have been falsely arrested and imprisoned, maliciously prosecuted, and physically assaulted.
When you spoke at the recent St. John’s Law panel program on The Central Park Five, it was clear that you’re keenly aware of how this experience has impacted Korey. Do you think it’s important for lawyers to be aware of the human beings behind the legal matters they handle and, if so, why is it so important?
I absolutely do think it’s important. I didn’t accompany Korey on the St. John's Law panel because he is my client. I went because he is my friend — a friend who I support in every way. He is a friend to all of us at the firm. He is a human being with emotions just like everyone else. That I, and the members of my office, care and truly want to seek justice for all our clients is why we advocate so zealously in each and every case.
You participated in clinics at St. John’s. Did that experience guide you when you started working on Korey’s case?
Yes. I participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Child Advocacy Clinic during law school. Both clinics were run in partnership with the Legal Aid Society. My clinic experience helped me develop a passion for public service and advocacy. It allowed me to meet and help people who needed and appreciated my help. There were times when I felt that a client was falling through the cracks and it fueled me to make sure that someone stood up for them.
The clinical program is just one the Law School upholds its Vincentian mission of serving the underrepresented in our society. Do you see your work on this case as animated by the same imperative to serve social justice?
Yes, I do. Most people don’t realize that some boutique private firms are just as devoted to working in the public interest as public service organizations. As an associate at Fisher, Byrialsen & Kreizer, I’ve participated in community "Know Your Rights" seminars and lectures where attendees can ask us questions about their constitutional rights and learn about basic criminal procedure. I’m always available to present these seminars and workshops in the community.
What has been most rewarding about working on this case and what do you hope it stands for as people look back on it in the future?
The most rewarding thing about working on this case has been gaining Korey's friendship, learning about his struggle, and watching him share his story with others, all while striving for a better future. Looking back, I hope this case is considered a milestone that effected real change in our criminal justice system, so all people are treated more justly.