Who Is Thomas B. Galligan? New Details On The Central Park Five Judge Featured In ‘Where Are They Now’ And What He’s Up To Today

Photo: Netflix
Who Is Thomas B. Galligan New Details On The Central Park Five Judge Featured In ‘Where Are They Now’ And What He’s Up To Today

New York’s judicial system is unusually complex. When a case arises, the first thing that’s determined is the courthouse in which the proceedings will be held. It’s chosen based on jurisdiction and the type of case at hand—criminal or civil. Once that’s set, the court looks at their calendars and scheduling to ascertain which judge should be assigned to the case. If multiple judges qualify, New York has a policy of choosing judges by lottery.

In the 1989 court case dubbed The Central Park Five, the court administrator departed from this policy and assigned Justice Thomas B. Galligan—who was known in his day for his “law-and-order image”—to the case instead, saying he was “the best judge suited for it.” Long story short, five teenagers were wrongfully convicted of rape under Justice Galligan. They were eventually released when a serial rapist confessed to the crime years later, but the impact of Galligan’s “arbitrary and capricious” assignment to the case can’t be understated.

Now, what exactly are the details of this case, and why is this relevant all of a sudden, 30 years after the fact? Who is Thomas B. Galligan?

1. A Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” was just released

American film director Ava DuVernay created, wrote and directed this series that exposes the breakdown of the U.S. criminal justice system during the Central Park Five case. It covers the stories of five boys of color, Antron McCray, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam, who were all falsely convicted of brutally raping a white 28-year-old female jogger in New York City’s Central Park back in 1989.

2. A rule was bypassed to pick Judge Galligan

In 1986, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of the State Court of Appeals instituted a rule of randomly assigning judges as part of a new system at the time in which most judges handle cases from start to finish. It replaced an older system that was comprised of panels of judges who would exclusively handle arraignments and pretrial motions and then assign cases to other judges for trial.

The goal was to move cases faster through the court system and make the public more confident in its functioning.

Milton L. Williams, the deputy state administrative judge in charge of state and city courts in New York City at the time, said that court rules give him the authority to bypass judges whose names have been placed in a pool for chance selection. A New York Times article explains that Justice Williams was concerned about the judges in the running, so he chose to override the lottery and appointed Justice Galligan instead. (I don’t know about you, but I think apprehension about a court official is a sign that maybe said official’s eligibility should be examined further).

RELATED: Who Is Matias Reyes? New Details On The Man Who Admitted To Rape Of Central Park Jogger

3. Galligan told the jury that the defendants’ parents didn’t have to be present even though they were minors

Specifically, a 1990 New York Times article says the judge responded to defense assertions by saying that “the law did not necessarily require parents to be present for the questioning of the three youthful defendants.” For example, throughout the trial, Santana’s lawyer, Mr. Rivera, argued that the police had violated his rights by questioning him before his father arrived at the station house and then continuing to question him for hours when his father left to get him pizza. During that time, when only Santana’s non-English speaking grandmother was present, detectives said he confessed to partaking in the crime.

The boys were tried as adults but sentenced as juveniles when they were convicted. They received sentences ranging from six to 13 years even though there was no DNA evidence to prove it.

4. Their confessions were coerced and they were lied to

Saul Kassin, Psychology Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Williams College, who has researched false confessions for over 30 years, shared his findings in an interview in 2015 about “why people confess to crimes they didn’t commit, and how certain interrogation techniques can promote or limit the incidence of false confession.”

He says, “The reason why people confess to crimes they did not commit is because they are subject to pressures of interrogation, a highly aggressive form of social influence. In the interrogation, especially in American style interrogation, people can become so stressed and so broken down and they start to feel so hopeless about their current situation that they come to believe in a rational way a confession is in their best interest. In some cases, they get so confused by the fact that American police are permitted to lie about evidence—and I mean lie about DNA, prints, surveillance footage, polygraph results—that in some cases people accused of crimes, particularly kids and others who are limited intellectually, become so confused by the lies that they actually come to believe they have committed this crime they did not commit. They wonder why it is they can’t recall it. They are led to believe that it is possible for people to transgress without awareness, for people to do something terrible and repress it. So they develop basically an inference that they must have committed this crime.”

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5. Then, in 2002, Matias Reyes confessed

Plus, his DNA actually matched the crime scene. When Reyes admitted to the crime, he was already in jail serving a life sentence for raping three women near Central Park as well as raping and killing a pregnant woman. Accordingly, Justice Charles J. Tejada vacated all sentences of the Central Park Five boys, and  the following year they were awarded $41 million from the City of New York because of their unjust sentencing.

In a prison audio released and obtained by the New York Daily News, Reyes said, “I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime. I’ve asked myself that question.” Reyes, who became known as the “East Side Rapist,” confessed because he said he found Jesus behind bars.

6. There’s even a petition to boycott Linda Fairstein’s books for her involvement with the prosecution

The former New York City prosecutor wrote over 20 mystery and crime novels based on her work in the field. The petition urges retailers and book publishers to sever ties with her. People have been protesting her all over the internet, too. Fairstein spoke out about the new Netflix series, saying that it depicts her “in a fictionalized version of events, in a grossly and maliciously inaccurate manner.” DuVernay then told The Daily Beast that that she tried to meet up with Fairstein before it went into production, but Fairstein tried to negotiate conditions, like script approval, before she would talk. Needless to say, DuVernay didn’t concede.

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This isn’t an isolated case. There’s still so much injustice in our injustice system. There are resources out there to learn and help, like PARC, a prison abolitionist group committed to exposing and challenging all forms of institutionalized racism, sexism, able-ism, heterosexism, and classism, specifically within the Prison Industrial Complex.

Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health. She draws inspiration for her writing from writer/director Wes Anderson, and for her lifestyle from her grandmother. Lastly, she's always actively seeking two things: a job having anything at all to do with publishing, and a chance to meet Jesse Eisenberg.