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Exonerated! From Central Park to East Asia

  • Lipton Hall & Faculty Lounge 108 West Third Street New York, New York, 10012 (map)

What can Innocence Movements in the U.S. and Asia learn from each other?


On April 20, 1989, New Yorkers awoke to news that dozens of teenagers had rampaged through Central Park and sexually assaulted and left unconscious a young woman jogger. New York City police arrested five boys, ages 14-16, and told the frightened city that four of the boys had confessed. The problem was that they were innocent. The boys spent the rest of their teens and early 20s in prison before finally being exonerated. The wrongful convictions of the Central Park Exonerees was not an isolated case. The Innocence Project has documented 367 DNA exonerations in the United States over the past thirty years.  Wrongful convictions also occur around the world, in all kinds of legal systems.

To discuss how they happen and how they are being corrected and prevented, we have invited Kevin Richardson, one of the five exonerees, and Sarah Burns, whose award-winning 2012 PBS documentary, The Central Park Five, first told their story on film. (The story of the Central Park Five has also been dramatized in a recent Netflix mini-series by Ava Duvernay, When They See Us). Joining them are three distinguished scholars and lawyers from Asia who will introduce the work of innocence movements in mainland China, Japan and Taiwan: Dr. Lena Yueying Zhong, a criminologist at City University of Hong Kong; Chen Yu-Ning, partner at HL & Partners, and the first director of the Taiwan Innocence Project; and Dr. Akiko Kogawara, associate professor of law at Ryukoku University and chief of the Forensic Science Unit at its Criminology Research Center. Professor Rachel Barkow, director of the NYU Law School Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, will make closing remarks.

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Prior to this event we strongly advise that you watch the film Central Park 5, available on Kanopy and Amazon.

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Ira Belkin is a Senior Research Scholar with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute and Adjunct Professor at NYU. Prior to joining the Institute in September 2012, Belkin served as a program officer at the Ford Foundation in Beijing, where he worked on law and rights issues. His grant-making supported Chinese institutions working to build the Chinese legal system, to strengthen the rule of law and to enhance the protection of citizens’ rights, especially the rights of vulnerable groups. Prior to joining the foundation in 2007, Belkin combined a career as an American lawyer and federal prosecutor with a deep interest in China, and spent seven years working to promote the rule of law in China. His appointments included two tours at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and a year as a fellow at the Yale Law School China Law Center. He has lectured extensively in Chinese to Chinese audiences on the U.S. criminal justice system and to American audiences on the Chinese legal reform movement. In addition to his J.D. from New York University School of Law, Belkin has a master’s degree in Chinese studies from Seton Hall University and a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Albany.



Sarah Burns is the author of The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding (Knopf, 2011) and, along with David McMahon and Ken Burns, the producer, writer and director of the documentary THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, about the five Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted in the infamous Central Park Jogger rape of 1989. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, was named the Best Non-Fiction film of 2012 by the New York Film Critics Circle and won a 2013 Peabody Award. Most recently, she produced and directed, along with David McMahon and Ken Burns, the two-part, four hour JACKIE ROBINSON, a biography of the celebrated baseball player and civil rights icon, which she wrote with McMahon. The film will air on PBS in April 2016. She is currently working on a documentary about public housing in Atlanta. Sarah was born and raised in Walpole, New Hampshire. She graduated from Yale University with a degree in American Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, David McMahon, and their children.



Akiko Kogawara is an associate professor and faculty of law at Ryukoku University where she works as the Chief of the Forensic Science Unit at the Criminology Research Center. Since its establishment in 2016, this unit has held several research meetings related to DNA evidence, shaken baby syndrome, handwriting analysis, ISO standards for forensic science, etc. Currently the unit is focusing on Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) cases. Professor Kogawara and her colleagues have conducted several international interviews with experts on this issue and published a transcript of the first symposium. Since 2005, Professor Kogawara has been teaching criminal law, criminal procedure law, criminology, and bioethics issues (with particular emphasis on the matter of aid-in-dying and organ extractions from brain-dead patients) and she later became a member of SBS Review Project Japan which focuses on correcting wrongfully convicted child abuse cases built on erroneous SBS theory.



Yu-Ning Chen is a partner at HL & Partners. Her practice covers white collar criminal defense, civil litigation in a wide range of commercial disputes, and legal consulting for numerous business and school entities to ensure compliance with the local laws. Ms. Chen is also a lecturer of Legal Writing at National Chiao Tung University and an active member of Taiwan Innocence Project. She is admitted to Taiwan and New York State Bar.



Kevin Richardson is one of the Exonerated Five. He was 14 years old when he was arrested in 1989 for the rape of Trisha Meili, known then as the Central Park jogger. Richardson was convicted of the rape of Meili, along with Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana. He ended up spending seven years in prison for the crime, convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, and robbery. In 2002, Richardson and the others were fully exonerated of the convictions against them, after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, admitted to having committed the crime. A DNA test subsequently proved Reyes had been at the crime scene.
Today, Richardson, 44, lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. He is a motivational speaker and an advocate for criminal justice reform. He works with The Innocence Project, which employs various legal resources, foremost being DNA testing, to “free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment. “Using my platform to raise awareness is therapeutic in a way that it’s touching others globally,” Richardson says. “I have dreams and aspirations to change the criminal landscape of this unjust society that we live in.”



Dr. Lena Yueying Zhong is associate professor in criminology at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, City University of Hong Kong. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Ph.D. degree in Criminology. Dr. Zhong was awarded a post-doctorate fellowship by the United States National Institute of Health to conduct suicide research based at the University of Rochester, New York. Her current research interests includes police and policing, crime prevention, organized crime, and sentencing in China. Her interest in wrongful conviction dates to 2005 when Mr. She Xianglin of Hubei province was exonerated of murdering his wife upon her return to home 11 years after her supposed death. Dr. Zhong has analyzed over 140 wrongful conviction cases involving 206 defendants to publish an article entitled “The Politics of Wrongful Conviction in China” (Zhong, L. and Dai, M. 2019. Journal of Contemporary China, 28 (116): 260–276). In June 2019, she was awarded a General Research Grant by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Government to conduct a study on anti-corruption wrongful convictions cases in anti-corruption in China.


Rachel Barkow, Vice Dean and Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy and Faculty Director, Center on the Administration of Criminal Law
Frank Upham, Wilf Family Professor of Property Law
Katherine Wilhelm, U.S.-Asia Law Institute Executive Director