The five youths convicted in the 1989 beating of a woman who became known as the Central Park jogger have agreed to a $40 million settlement from the city of New York after their case was overturned in 2002. The men filed a civil right lawsuit in federal court after their conviction was overturned following the confession of Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist, who said that he acted alone.
Reyes’ confession was the basis for the lawsuit filed by the Central Park Five, as they became known. Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kharey “Korey” Wise, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana each served between 6 3-4 and 13 years. Their conviction was based on their statements incriminating each other, even though crime scene evidence did not match their DNA.
The teenagers and their supporters later maintained that their confessions were made under police duress. DNA testing has now proved that Reyes raped the woman. The lawsuit by the five men accused city prosecutors and police of false arrest, malicious prosecution and depriving the men of their civil rights through a racially motivated conspiracy. Reyes was never prosecuted in the case because the statute of limitations had expired while he was already incarcerated in New York’s Shawangunk Correctional Facility.
The case came to symbolize both the lawlessness of New York City and the dangers of the city’s famous park. Mystery and controversy still surround it. The Central Park jogger was Patricia Meili, a 28-year-old woman who regularly jogged in the area. She has said she has no memory of the attack, which occurred April 19, 1989. Meili spent about seven weeks in Metropolitan Hospital recovering.
The original report of the crime was that Meili was raped, beaten severely and left unconscious in an attack by as many as 12 youths who were roaming the park in a vicious rampage. She was found at about 1:30 a.m. She had two skull fractures and police said her body temperature had dropped to 80 degrees.
Dr. Robert Kurtz was the physician who oversaw Meili’s recovery. He said she nearly bled to death from five head lacerations. Three of those injuries were blunt wounds that were consistent with being struck by a rock or tree limb, as Reyes said he used in the attack. Two other wounds were caused by a sharp, cutting instrument, and Reyes made no mention of using sharp weapons. Kurtz said that if Reyes used only a blunt object there had to be more attackers involved.
The five black and Hispanic youths eventually convicted in the Central Park jogger case that has led to the $40 million settlement had been arrested the same evening in connection with another incident, and confessed to the attack on Meili. At the time police said that a group as large as 20 came upon Meili, and as many as 12 assaulted her. The Central Park Five, aged 14-16 at the time, were arrested and charged with second-degree assault as juveniles as well as unlawful assembly. Police were unable to question Meili as she remained unconscious for 12 days.
The proposed settlement still needs to be approved by the city comptroller and then submitted for approval to Federal District Court in Manhattan judge Deborah A. Batts. The confidential settlement was leaked to media by a person described by The New York Times as “not a party in the lawsuit,” but who “was told about the proposed settlement.” The $40 million settlement gives the men originally convicted in the Central Park jogger case approximately $1 each for each year of imprisonment.
By Beth A. Balen