Twenty-four years after five young men were convicted of a vicious rape and beating of a woman in Central Park, New York, the city has now agreed to a $41 million settlement for their wrongful conviction.
Some may remember that in the late 1980s the country was consumed by the “wilding” scare with groups of youths who would roam the streets and parks of America’s big cities looking for random victims to attack. In the first most famous case, five teens–four African Americans and one Hispanic–were arrested for the brutal rape of a woman jogging in Central Park.
The five young men became known as the “Central Park Five” as they fought for their freedom in court for the April, 1989 attack.
Initially seven teens were arrested, but two were ruled out and released. Ultimately five were charged with attempted murder, rape, and assault of a woman who was beaten unconscious with a 12-inch pipe and a rock.
The woman, Trisha Ellen Meili, who survived the attack and eventually became a motivational speaker as a result of her ordeal, was not the only person randomly attacked by two or more boys that day as there were at least a dozen other attacks of people using the famed park.
The wilding scare spread across the country for sometime afterward.
The trial resulted in convictions and the teens went on to serve their time. However, for years the convicted teens claimed police coerced confessions from them and eventually a career criminal named Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. DNA evidence substantiated his claim.
After years of litigation, the five men have now been both cleared and given a large cash award for the wrongful conviction.
New York Mayor de Blasio said that the settlement “is an act of justice for those five men that is long overdue.”
“We can finally put this case behind us, and these five men and their families can begin to heal these wounds and move forward,” he continued.
The city noted, though, that the settlement did not mean that authorities were accepting blame for wrongdoing.
City attorney Zachary Carter, said the award “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law enforcement misconduct.”
“On the contrary, our review of the record suggests that both the investigating detectives and Assistant District Attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably, given the circumstances with which they were confronted on April 19, 1989, and thereafter,” Carter said.
One of the five, Raymond Santana, said that the money could not correct the injustice.
“It’s unbelievable the injustice we suffered throughout all these years and that we continue to suffer until today,” Santana said.
“The Donald Trumps, the Ann Coulters, the bloggers who still say that we’re guilty… they just can’t let it go,” he said accusingly. “We’re innocent. What more do you need? What more do we have to prove?”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com