Susan Keegan & The Central Park Five

by Karyn Feiden, December 5, 2012

The Central Park Five, the newly released Ken Burns documentary about five black and Hispanic teenagers railroaded through the New York City criminal justice system for a rape they did not commit, does not at first glance seem to have much in common with the unsolved homicide of Ukiah resident Susan Keegan.

The two incidents occurred two decades and a continent apart, and the color, class and life experiences of those involved could not be more different. One became a national icon of urban decay and the failure of public safety. The other has drawn little attention beyond Mendocino County, except perhaps in the homes of a few scattered friends and family members who still clamor for justice. One is about a rush to judgment, the other about justice delayed.

And yet there are parallels, beyond the fact that some of Susan Keegan’s ashes have been scattered just a few minutes’ walk from the notorious 102nd St. pathway in the northern end of Manhattan’s Central Park, where a jogger once hovered at the edge of death.

In April 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was dragged into the bushes, beaten and raped with horrifying savagery, and left in a coma from which she was not expected to emerge. That same night, dozens of teenagers entered the park together and engaged in a string of assaults, including trying to steal a bike and throwing stones at another runner.

Five boys, ages 14 to 16, were arrested for the lesser assaults. Then, the young woman’s fractured body was discovered and the rape charge was added on. The Central Park Jogger case, as it quickly came to be known, generated an outcry, with the newspapers, the city government and the public demanding punishment in fierce, shrill language.

After two trials that made tabloid headlines for weeks, all five teens were convicted of gang rape and multiple counts of assault and ultimately served between seven and 13 years in prison. In 2002, long after most of them had been released, another man confessed to being the sole assailant, and DNA evidence backed his claim. Ken Burns argues convincingly in his documentary that the boys were scapegoats, symbols of all that had gone haywire in a seemingly lawless city. Every one of their convictions was vacated.

It was a shocking miscarriage of justice, to be sure, but what does any of it have to do with Susan Keegan?

Susan Keegan was found dead in her home in November 2010, and 21 months later, a death certificate was issued reporting the cause as homicide. Authorities report there is a “person of interest,” widely believed to be the physician to whom Susan was married for 32 years. The couple was in the midst of bitter divorce negotiations. Medocino law enforcement has not explained why no one has been charged in the case.

Here are the common threads. First, faulty assumptions were made immediately in both cases – the troublemaking black and Hispanic kids must have committed a crime, the white, Harvard-educated physician could not have done so.

The cops in New York did not wait for evidence before concluding that the boys who threw rocks at one runner must be the same boys who raped another. Because they were “certain,” they ignored the timeline that would have shown their reconstruction of events to be impossible.

The cops arriving at the Keegan residence the morning after Susan’s death likewise jumped to conclusions. Their failure to identify the home as a crime scene, and ask hard questions about the husband’s version of events, injured an investigation that might have cast doubt on his story of Susan’s hidden drug abuse. Seven months would pass before law enforcement returned to the house, armed with a search warrant, to take a closer look.

Second, the nature of authority comes into play – the powerless yield to the powerful. In a setting that involves both New York City cops and teenage boys from a public housing project, it is obvious who gets to call the shots and who is vulnerable. That’s a lot less clear when Mendocino County cops knock on a physician’s door and greet a take-charge man who at another place and time might have offered them life-saving treatment. Who’s really in charge then?

Third, friends and family struggle to do more than howl into the wind. The families of the falsely charged boys faced a criminal justice system and a public that had instantly made up its mind. No one was listening when they insisted the cops had gotten it wrong.

Likewise, within hours of her death, Susan Keegan’s closest connections bombarded the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office with requests to pay attention – to conduct a careful autopsy, to safeguard evidence before it could be destroyed, to probe deeply into the highly suspicious circumstances of her death.

It is not clear that anyone listened there, either.

Whatever their similarities and differences, the two cases stand as powerful reminders of the imperative of justice – justice for suspects, justice for victims, and justice for those left behind to give voice to them both. It’s not easy to right a wrong, once an error has been made. A civilized society needs to trust that its criminal justice professionals will work swiftly, vigorously and without prejudice on behalf of all its members.

It is too late to make up for the injustice that those hapless teenage boys, most of them now struggling men, have suffered. The years they lost behind bars can never be redeemed.

But it is not too late to make up for the delays in prosecuting the Susan Keegan case. Whatever the early errors in evidence-gathering, the challenge of trying a defendant who can afford prominent legal counsel, and the other pressures on a resource-strapped law-enforcement community, a two-year wait is long enough. A homicide has occurred, and the suspect should be charged. It is time for the District Attorney of Mendocino County to act on the evidence. ¥¥

29 Responses to Susan Keegan & The Central Park Five

  1. John Fagan Reply

    January 15, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Justice delayed is justice denied – denied not only to the victim and his or her friends and family but also to the individual under the cloud of suspicion. Time elapsed serves no one any good.

  2. chewsome Reply

    January 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

    The DA Office will move forward when there is enough evidence for a successful prosecution and minimal risk of a hung jury or findings of not guilty by a Jury of peers, unlike a former DA who clogged the courts with non winnable cases, to simply bankrupt poor people into plea bargains or additional charges for missing one of the many continuance scheduled required appearances, no matter if the defendant had to travel from out of county or out of state.

  3. Sad Reply

    January 10, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Those that share facts regarding Susan’s drug use are considered here emotionally charged, or desperate? Do you not see, your words can be viewed the same? This is what happens, and worse should this go to trial, the victim and prosecuted are both put on trial. The more people argue that Susan’s beauty and vitality is any evidence in a court of law against her recreational use of drugs and/or alcohol, will be forced to listen to testimony after testimony of evidence that suggests otherwise. It will not only be Dr. Keegan’s name that is dragged through the mud. I cannot think of a worse fate for her or her loved one’s after having already suffered the tragedy of this loss. What none of us have is enough evidence, you poke holes in mine, I poke holes in yours. I believe wholeheartedly that you are misguided, as I can see how wholeheartedly many of you believe justice has been delayed. And yet neither of us may ever have all the answers, or proof beyond our own certainty. I can’t help but think even a trial, a conviction one way or the other may make no difference in any of our minds. Like you, I seek peace and healing. For me it is honoring the life of Susan by honoring what I do know for certain, I will remember her most for her warmth and motherly love, and honor her by extending that same love and warmth to those I knew to be most precious to her.

  4. Karyn Feiden Reply

    January 10, 2013 at 8:02 am

    My article, Susan Keegan and the Central Park Five, makes no accusations, arguing only that the evidence in a highly suspicious death must be heard.

    There is a hint of desperation behind the anonymous innuendos being advanced about Susan, a vibrant, engaged and healthy member of the Ukiah community. Unsubstantiated claims are meaningless, especially in a court of law.

  5. CloserToTheTruth Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I believe this to be a case of “guilty until proven innocent”. The parallel I see between the central park jogger and Susan Keegan is that people are just looking at the fact that they were in the middle of a divorce and Dr. Keegan was a wealthy physician that didn’t want to lose any of his precious money so of course he has to be the one that murdered her. Just like those black and hispanic kids, they were somewhere in the area when it happened so they must have raped her right? It doesn’t matter because you all have your minds made up. Only the closest ones to them know the truth.

  6. Jessica nooney Reply

    January 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    This story is obviously one more example of a miscarriage of justice. No one should get away with murder. In the case of Susan’s physician husband of 32 years, it is obvious he killed Susan, and the authorities are looking the other way.

  7. David Elsasser Reply

    January 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I sincerely hope the Mendocino District Attorney’s Office has made a New Year’s resolution to deliver justice for Susan Keegan in early 2013.

  8. Iris Arno Reply

    December 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Two years and no action–the shock of Susan’s untimely and violent death has been exacerbated by outrage that there has been no trial, no attempt to bring the perpetrator of this heart-breaking crime to justice, NO ACTION! Susan and her family, friends, neighbors and community as well as anyone who believes that murder is wrong all deserve much better. How about starting with some charges and a trial? How about trying to find out what really happened? How long is this going to drag on and why is it dragging on? Give us some reason to believe in our system of law!

  9. Charles Williams Reply

    December 28, 2012 at 10:42 am

    This thread lays out a number of concerns that need to be addressed, but I find the notion of “justice delayed” to be the overriding issue. No matter how a trial would turn out, there needs to be some resolution in this case for the family, the friends, and the community. The DA’s office needs to move this case forward and only through a trial can any semblance of justice emerge from this highly suspicious case.

    Also as a regular reader of the AVA, it would be a relief to see the DA take on a case that isn’t the usual “Mendo scumbag” crime. This trial has numerous societal implications that need to be addressed and represents an excellent case for the DA to show that they can pursue and resolve a difficult case that the community is clearly following.

  10. Bernard Schwartz Reply

    December 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Far out, nearby. Forget Ukiah’s pathetic new slogan for tourism. This scandal would go national and boom the ailing local economy. It has everything, adored victim, treacherous doctor, drugs, and more. Win or lose, the DA has to try (pun intended).

  11. Interested observer Reply

    December 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    While ” Karen’s” venomous and overly emotionally charged posting is disgusting, it also lacks the fact that Susan’s death has been classified by officials as homicide. Attacking the victim of the crime posthumously serves no purpose.

  12. Friend of the family Reply

    December 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    To Dr. Keegan….. So glad you finally found a single person to speak up on your behalf. Apparently it was difficult.

  13. Karen Reply

    December 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    “Never used drugs”? Untrue. I also knew Susan for many years. She was an everyday, several times a day, pot smoker. She enjoyed expensive whiskey and a variety of pharmaceuticals. This was not a secret because Susan shared generously with her friends.

    In her final month, Susan spiraled down emotionally. She was really upset that the divorce settlement required her to get a full time job. She absolutely refused to get any help for her problems. When I reminded her that opiates and alcohol are a lethal combination, she spoke her final words to me: “Fuck off.”

    • CloserToTheTruth Reply

      January 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

      These are not harsh words or false by any means. I knew Susan for 29 years (my whole life)and Karen’s comment above is the truth. Were not sticking up for Dr. Keegan and we most certainly are not attacking Susan. We are giving some of you some unknown facts that might help shed light on this sad event. And the reason the DA is not prosecuting anyone is because there is not enough evidence to bring it to trial. DA’s don’t like losing cases.

  14. John D'Alton Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I have followed this case because of the effect Susan’s tragic death had on her relatives who are friends of mine. It seems strange to me that nothing is being done to advance the investigation. An unsolved murder is an open sore in the community in which it happened. This sore will not heal until Susan’s killer is successfully prosecuted.

  15. Julie T Reply

    December 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    As with the others who loved and respected Susan, I appeal to the DA’s office to vigorously pursue justice for her. When I sometimes despair that the investigation has ground to a halt, I am encouraged by recalling a story that my sister-in-law told me about a similar case: a coworker had been murdered (by her husband), and at the trial it was revealed that even when local law enforcement had acted as if the case had gone cold, the investigation was ongoing, active, and focused on the appropriate suspect. That man was convicted. I hope and pray that the person who cut short Susan’s amazing life will likewise be brought to justice.

  16. rachel f Reply

    December 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I have known the keegans for years. Susan was a gentle angel who never used drugs. Peter is an egomaniac and physical brute. Susan never reported him for domestic violence because she knew an arrest would cost him his medical license causing her to lose her affluent life style. Lock him up forever.

  17. Mary G Reply

    December 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I have followed this case for the two years since Susan’s murder. What was a devastating loss to her family and friends has become even more terrible as they have had to fight to have their very real concerns addressed and a thorough and totally appropriate investigation to be conducted. Now, with death by homicide finally recognized and a “person of interest” identified, it is amazing that still there is little real movement on this case. Susan, her family and friends, and, indeed, all in the community, deserve far better.

  18. Mary N. Reply

    December 16, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Please pay attention to this! I am a jogger in New York City and remember well when the “Central Park Jogger” was foiund. I lived through the emotion and turmoil that surrounded the ensuing “investigation” and trial. As the writer points out, justice was not served in that case because police, the legal system, and the general public all made up their minds because “what else could it be?”

    The same is happening with Susan Keegan–”How could it be that a well-known physician would kill his wife?” Then, “It has to be something else.” Maybe so, but the investigation must be rigorously pursued to a fair and just end before that question can be answered.

    Please serve the principles of justice by pursuing Susan’s killer.

  19. Kris M. Reply

    December 15, 2012 at 10:13 am

    The evidence in Susan’s death deserves to be heard in a court of law. Her many friends are watching and have now waited more than two years. She had so much to live for, so much that was taken away. She deserves justice.

  20. Renie Schapiro Reply

    December 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Thank you for this clear and compelling analysis. We are told there is a homicide and a person of interest and then silence. Silence cannot be the last word. This is not just a local story; if wealth, prestige and even strained DA budgets can undermine justice in one part of California, it can happen anywhere and the whole country should be watching how this case plays out.

  21. A facebook friend Reply

    December 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Domestic abuse in well-educated, upper middle class or wealthy families is sadly hidden, and this seems to be the case here. Susan showed the world a cheerful, upbeat face, and covered up other parts of her life. She deserves better – if police have a suspect, that person should be brought to trial.

  22. A friend from out of state Reply

    December 13, 2012 at 8:52 am

    As an attorney, I’ve followed this case with interest.

    A homicide, a suspect and no prosecution? Are the voters in Mendocino really willing to put up with that?

    At what point do the voters rise up and say…Enough! Justice will only be served when this case goes before a jury.

  23. friend in Ukiah - Melanie Kask Reply

    December 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Thank you for the eloquent call for justice for Susan Keegan. The comparison/contrast to the Central Park Five case is instructive. It seems that Susan’s friends and family are going to have to continue to insist that her case be taken seriously and pursued vigorously. It has already been two years since she died. Since she can’t speak, we need to speak for her.

    Susan, we miss you.

  24. friend in Ukiah Reply

    December 11, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I was at Susan’s viewing, and it was obvious to me that the deep dent in her forehead could not have been caused only by her body weight falling, even on a corner of a countertop. It was clear to me that violence was involved. I have no idea why the sheriff’s office and the DA are not pursuing the perpetrator here. Please, sirs, bring this case to justice!

  25. Lydia Reply

    December 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I have been following this horrible story for some time as we used to live in Sonoma but now live in Los Angeles. Why hasn’t anyone been charged with Ms. Keegan’s murder since the D.A. has changed the death certificate to homicide? This has to be unbearable for her family and friends. Justice should be served and two years plus seems like a long waiting period.

  26. wineguy Reply

    December 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Doktor Keegan will become Mendo’s OJ, guilty but reamins on the ‘outside’..

    • David Elsasser Reply

      December 10, 2012 at 6:34 am

      Whatever else you can say about the OJ verdict, the evidence in the case was presented to a jury of his peers. Shouldn’t the residents of Mendocino County insist on the same thing here?

  27. Mary Pierce Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

    What a powerful and poignant call to action! Thanks to the author and to The AVA for bringing attention to this investigation. We need to know the truth about what happened to Susan Keegan on the night that she died. The utter tragedy of her death deserves the scrutiny of justice, may it be swift and fearless. We wait and watch with all our attention.

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