Convictions thrown out in Central Park rape case

Associated Press
Dec. 19, 2002 10:30 AM

NEW YORK - A judge dismissed the convictions Thursday of all five men who served years in prison for the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park, a crime that exposed the city's racial tensions and made national headlines.

The courtroom, filled with the family and friends of the defendants, burst into cheers and applause as state Justice Charles Tejada announced his ruling.

"Justice was done," said City Councilman Bill Perkins, a supporter of the five. "Unfortunately, it took 13 years of tribulations for the Central Park Five, not to mention the years of suffering for their families."

The five men weren't in the courtroom to hear the ruling Thursday. All have finished their sentences, though one was reincarcerated for an unrelated crime.

Sharonne Salaam, mother of defendant Yusef Salaam, said her son was now "beyond anger and he's beyond joy. ... We have to improve this system so that only the guilty suffer."

Perkins and defense attorney Michael Warren called for an investigation to determine who was responsible for what the councilman called "this miscarriage of justice."

Authorities a year ago began investigating claims by a serial rapist who said he alone attacked the 28-year-old woman as she jogged in Central Park on April 19, 1989. DNA testing showed semen samples from the scene belonged to Matias Reyes and new forensic tests, more precise than those used a decade ago, failed to link the five convicted men to the rape.

Two weeks ago, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau cited that evidence in recommending that all convictions in the case be dropped.

Prosecutors have said they have no plans to retry any of the five.

Lawyers from the police detectives' union tried unsuccessfully to block Tejada's ruling, requesting an evidentiary hearing first.

The primary evidence in the case had been confessions that the five, all Black and Hispanic boys ranging in age from 14 to 16 at the time, had made to detectives.

Supporters argued that the statements were coerced. Prosecutors also had no forensic evidence to link any of them to the crime scene.

The five, now ages 28 to 30, completed prison sentences ranging from 5 to 13 years on their convictions. Their lawyers have said they are considering lawsuits.

At the time of the attack, authorities said a roaming gang of youths was in the park for a night of "wilding" - randomly attacking anyone who came into their path.

The jogger, a white investment banker, was found near death in a puddle of mud and blood in the north end of the park. She was in coma for 12 days but eventually recovered. She now lives in a Connecticut suburb and works for a nonprofit organization and is expected to have a book out in April.

Besides rape and assault convictions in connection with the jogger, the five also were conv icted on charges including assault, robbery, sex abuse and rioting stemming from allegations they attacked and harassed other people in the park that night.

Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Kharey Wise confessed on videotape. A detective testified at trial that Salaam made incriminating admissions to him but never on videotape.

Prosecutors earlier this month asked the court to void the convictions on the basis of the evidence against Reyes, including a semen sample that proved through DNA that he had assaulted the jogger. Reyes, 31, is serving time for murder and rape.

The ruling could clear the way for the release of Santana, who is currently imprisoned on an unrelated drug charge. Based on his conviction in the jogger case, he was sentenced as a prior felon, said his attorney, Roger Wareham.

Santana, serving a 3- to 7-year sentence, would be eligible for parole next July. A review of Santana's sentence is scheduled for Monday, and Wareham was calling for his immediate release.

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