New York City Controller Scott Stringer approved a $41 million legal settlement in June 2014 for five men who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for beating and raping a woman jogging in Central Park in 1989. Stringer stated that “this settlement is a prudent and equitable solution for all parties to the lawsuit and closes a very difficult chapter in the city’s history.” The settlement offers each man approximately $1 million for each year they were imprisoned and must now be approved by Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts. The suit has been in litigation for over a decade. In 2007, Batts rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the city now has a “moral obligation to right this injustice” by settling the case. Under the agreement, the city is not admitting to any wrongdoing.
In 1989, 28-year-old investment banker Tricia Meili, who has since written a book titled “I Am the Central Park Jogger,” went for a run in Central Park. She was brutally beaten and raped and was in a coma for over six weeks. Due to her severe injuries, Meili does not remember anything about the attack. Five Hispanic and African-American teenagers, who were between 14 through 16-years-old at the time, were arrested and charged for the crime. The teenagers confessed to the brutal beating and rape, but they later retracted their statements. During two separate jury trials, the teenagers were convicted of the crime. Four of the teenagers, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray, each spent nearly seven years in prison. The remaining teenager, Kharey Wise, spent almost 13 years behind bars.
In 2002, Matia Reyes, a man serving 33 years to life for rape and murder, confessed that he was the Central Park attacker. After DNA evidence corroborated his confession, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau asked a judge to vacate the convictions of the five wrongfully accused men, who were subsequently released from prison.
After being released, the men filed a lawsuit claiming that the police and prosecutors engaged in misconduct in order to secure a conviction in the high-profile case. For instance, the men claim that the police coerced their confessions. In addition, the lawsuit states that the lead prosecutor, Elizabeth Lederer, told a jury that hair samples found on the clothing of one of the men matched the hair of the victim. The lawsuit states that this claim was untrue.
For over a decade, the Bloomberg administration fought the lawsuit on the grounds that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately in handling the case. In 2013, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department stated, “The case is not about whether the teens were wrongfully convicted. It’s about whether prosecutors and police deliberately engaged in misconduct.”
After taking office, Mayor de Blasio allowed the lawsuit to move forward. Speaking about the settlement, Salaam stated, “We’ve been waiting for 25 years for justice.”