Attorney Barry Scheck, center surrounded by family members and other attorneys speaks to the media following District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's report which vacated all guilty verdicts of the five young men convicted in the Central Park Jogger case in New York, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2002.
Judge Vacates Jogger Rape Convictions
Dec 19, 11:40 AM (ET)
By SAMUEL MAULL
NEW YORK (AP) - A judge dismissed the convictions Thursday of all five men who served years in prison for the 1989 rape and beating of a woman 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.
Tejada's ruling, less than a week before Christmas, surprised attorneys who had expected his decision on Jan. 6. The defendants weren't in court.
The decision came two weeks after District Attorney Robert Morgenthau recommended dropping all the convictions in the case. The prosecutor cited new DNA evidence that implicates a convicted rapist who has confessed to the Central Park assault.
Tejeda's ruling came after lawyers from the police detectives' union unsuccessfully tried to block his ruling. The Detectives' Endowment Association wanted an evidentiary hearing first, said attorney Philip Karsyk.
The primary evidence in the case had been confessions made to detectives.
Supporters of the five have said those statements were coerced. The five black and Hispanic defendants ranged from age 14 to 16 when they were arrested for the April 19, 1989, attack.
Prosecutors have said they have no plans to retry the five.
No forensic evidence linked any of them to the crime scene. In addition, there was a DNA match with serial rapist Matias Reyes, who confessed to the jogger attack earlier this year.
The five, now ages 28 to 30, completed prison sentences ranging from 5 1/2 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 28-year-old 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 convicted 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 the fifth, Yusef 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 1/2 to 7-year sentence, would be eligible for parole next July. Wareham was calling for his immediate release.
A spokeswoman for Santana's sentencing judge said Santana was not yet on their calendar.