D.A. urges rape conviction reversals
NEW YORK, Dec. 5 — In an extraordinary turn in one of the city’s most notorious crimes, the Manhattan district attorney on Thursday asked a judge to throw out the convictions of five men who were found guilty as teenagers of participating in the brutal rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY Robert Morgenthau’s filing recommended that all charges against the quintuplet be vacated, saying “no useful purpose” would be served by retrials. The charges included the assault of the woman jogger and crimes against eight other people accosted in the park the same night.
Morgenthau’s action has no immediate impact on the convictions of the men, known as the “Central Park Five.” State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada said he would rule by February on the motion, which was filed by defense attorneys.
Morgenthau’s recommendation came 11 months after a convicted rapist who had never before been under suspicion confessed and said he acted alone in committing the crime, which had been blamed on a gang of “wilding” youths. DNA evidence has backed his claim.
The five black and Hispanic youths, who were 14 to 16 at the time of the attack on the white investment banker and are now in their late 20s, have already completed jail terms ranging from six years to 11½ years for the crime.
IMPLICATIONS OF EXONERATION
However, exoneration for Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam could open the door to civil suits against the city and free them from having to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. A law enforcement source told the Associated Press that Morgenthau’s recommendation was made strictly on legal grounds and does not cast blame on the detectives who obtained videotaped confessions from four of the five. “It was agreed that the words ‘coercion’ and ‘collusion’ would not be used,” the AP quoted the source as saying. Morgenthau had until Thursday to file papers saying whether he would join the defense motion to void the convictions.
Defense attorneys have said the youths, all from Harlem, were coerced into bogus confessions by police. But until January’s confession, there seemed to be little chance of overturning the convictions.
The attack drew headlines across the nation and remains an infamous benchmark in city history. The woman, then 28, was assaulted and left for dead in a pool of mud and blood on April 18, 1989, as dozens of teenagers descended on Central Park to mug runners and bicyclists - a crime spree dubbed wilding. Now 41, she has said she has no memory of what happened, preventing her from helping identify any suspects.
DEMONSTRATORS URGE COURT TO ACT
Before Morgenthau’s decision was announced, about 60 people demonstrated outside the courthouse on behalf of the five. “Overturn the conviction,” read one of the signs held by protesters.
The motion to void the rape convictions was based on the recent admission of an imprisoned rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes. Reyes, 31, is serving a life term for raping and murdering another woman. He told investigators that he alone raped the jogger about three months before his arrest.
Reyes told investigators he raped her, crushed her skull with a rock and left her for dead. He also said he followed his usual pattern of acting alone.
“I was a monster,” Reyes said in a recent television interview. “I did some real bad things to so many people and harmed them in so many ways.”
Test results returned in May confirmed Reyes’ DNA matched semen collected from the jogger’s body. The same tests failed to link the five youths to the savage crime scene.
The woman lost three-quarters of her blood, and her body temperature dipped into the 80s. She was bruised from head to toe; on a scale of 3 to 15 used by neurologists to measure brain function, she was rated a 4. She spent 12 days in a coma.
The former prosecutor in the case, Linda Fairstein, recently said she has no doubts the five are guilty and that Reyes merely finished the assault.
CASE FUELED RACIAL TENSIONS
The case involving minority defendants and a white victim dominated headlines and stoked racial tensions. Developer Donald Trump took out newspaper ads saying the attack was worthy of the death penalty.
Investigators said blond hair found on one of the youths matched that of the victim. (However, this has been shown to be false by recent DNA testing -Volcana) But there was no match on semen samples or any other compelling physical evidence.
The men were convicted anyway in 1990 after jurors watched their videotaped confessions. “We all took turns getting on top of her,” McCray, then 15, told police in one tape.
The defense insisted those confessions were forced out of the youths by police who kept them under questioning for hours. Over the past year, the defense had said Reyes’ confession, along with police knowledge that he had attacked another woman in the park two days earlier, was sufficient to nullify the convictions.
But police and prosecutors questioned Reyes’ story, saying there was no guarantee the convicted rapist was telling the truth about the attack. The jogger, an employee of Salomon Bros., has since made an amazing recovery, lives in a Connecticut suburb and works for a nonprofit organization. She has been married for five years and reportedly has a book due out in April.
Proud to be an American
Not blind. Not uninformed. We are party to atrocities. But the response of the world after 9/11 is worth noting. Even our most dire enemies offered aid. We should all be so lucky.