By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – New York City has agreed to pay $40 million to five men who were convicted, and later exonerated, of brutally raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989, settling a long-fought civil rights lawsuit, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The violent attack, which became known as the Central Park jogger case, made national headlines as a sign that the city’s crime rate had spiraled out of control, while the outcome of the prosecution raised questions about race and the justice system.
The victim was white and the defendants all black or Hispanic.
The five men – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam – were between 14 and 16 years of age at the time of the rape and confessed after lengthy police interrogations.
Each soon recanted, insisting they had admitted to the crime under the duress of exhaustion and coercion from police officers. Another man confessed to the crime years later.
The victim, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, nearly died from the attack and was left with no memory of it.
The settlement still requires approval from the city’s comptroller and from the federal judge in Manhattan who has overseen the case, Deborah Batts, according to the person familiar with the matter.
As in most cases in which the city settles civil rights claims, the municipal government likely will not admit wrongdoing, the person said.
Jonathan Moore, one of the lawyers for the men, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The deal comes six months after Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called for a settlement during his campaign, took office. His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had long resisted settling the case, with city lawyers repeatedly saying the convictions withstood legal scrutiny regardless of whether they were later vacated.
In January, the city asked for the litigation to be put on hold to explore a resolution.
The settlement was first reported on Thursday by The New York Times.
The five men were convicted in 1990 amid intense media coverage. A dozen years later, murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime, and DNA tied him to the rape.
An internal review by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which moved to throw out the convictions in 2002, found that the boys’ original confessions included “troubling discrepancies.”
A judge vacated the convictions. By then, however, all five had been released from prison after serving between five and 13 years.
They sued the city in 2003 for wrongful conviction and violation of their civil rights, seeking $250 million in damages.
The lawsuit gained renewed attention in 2012, when famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns released “Central Park Five,” a movie that cast the men as victims of racial tensions and a rush to judgment.