Donald Trump has refused to apologise to five men wrongly convicted of raping a female jogger in New York City’s Central Park 30 years ago, saying “they admitted their guilt”.
Known as the “Central Park Five”, the five men were teenagers when they were convicted and said they were coerced into making confessions.
Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker at the time, was raped and almost beaten to death while she ran in the park – and the attack made national headlines in 1989.
The men are now facing fresh media attention after becoming the subjects of a Netflix miniseries.
At the time of the attack, Mr Trump was a real estate developer in New York – and he took out full-page ads in several of the city’s newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
He proclaimed in bold letters: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
The ad continued: “I want to hate these murderers and I always will… I am not looking to psychoanalyse or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”
The US president was asked about the case by a reporter outside the White House on Tuesday following Ava DuVernay’s four-part documentary about the case.
Asked whether he would apologise to the five men now, Mr Trump said: “Why do you bring this question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up.
“You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt!”
Referring to the prosecution in the case, he said: “If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.”
The case raised questions about race as a factor in the criminal justice system and was also a sign that crime in the city had spiralled out of control.
All five of the men – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam – were black or Hispanic, and the victim was white.
They were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the attack and imprisoned for between five and 13 years.
Despite confessing after long police interrogations, they each later recanted their statements, saying they had been exhausted and coerced by police officers.
In 2002, their convictions were overturned after serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime and DNA tests confirmed his guilt.
New York City agreed to pay more than $40m (£31.8m) to the five men in 2014.