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D.A. Recommends Throwing Out ‘Central Park 5’ Charges

By Karen Freifeld
NEWSDAY -- new york

In an extraordinary turn of events blasted by police and hailed by activists, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Thursday recommended that all charges against the five young men convicted in the 1989 near-fatal beating and rape of a Central Park jogger be thrown out.

In a 58-page legal filing, Morgenthau agreed to set aside the 12-year-old convictions in light of new evidence -- namely claims by a serial rapist, linked to the jogger through DNA, that he alone attacked the 28-year-old investment banker on April 19, 1989.

The rapist, Matias Reyes, 31, also committed a rape in the park two days earlier, prosecutors noted, and new testing undermines other evidence introduced at trial, such as hair found on one of the young men that jurors were led to believe could have matched the jogger.

The main evidence against the five were their incriminating statements, which they contend were coerced. The new evidence makes it likely the trials “would have resulted in verdicts more favorable to the defendants,” the report said.

Morgenthau said he has no plans to retry the “Central Park 5,” as they have come to be known. All of the young men have served their time in the case. The district attorney also recommended that the men’s convictions for attacks on other victims in the park that night be vacated.

“It’s a great victory,” said defense attorney Roger Wareham, who represents three of the young men. “What this case represents is a real indictment of the criminal justice system in New York City and I would say in the United States. It’s evidence of the fact there’s always a double standard when blacks and Latinos are accused of ... crimes.”

All five young men convicted of the attack are black and Hispanic.

For the men to be cleared, Morgenthau’s decision has to be approved by State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada, who is likely to issue a ruling before Feb. 6, the date he set, since the defense and prosecutors are apparently in agreement, said David Bookstaver, a court spokesman.

The decision to throw out the convictions is a stunning turn-around in a case that shocked the city 13 years ago. The randomness of the attack on the jogger frightened New Yorkers and made national headlines symbolizing a city out of control.

The victim, who worked for Salomon Brothers at the time, spent 12 days in a coma after she was left for dead in a muddy pool of blood on a night some 30 teenagers descended on the park to mug bikers and runners in a crime spree.

“Certainly, no one would have thought that as the defendants and their group were making their way through Central Park, a serial rapist was also at large,” Nancy Ryan, chief of the trial division, wrote in Thursday’s report. “The newly discovered evidence provides incontrovertible proof that he was.”

Reyes, who has been behind bars since 1989 serving 33 1/3 years to life for four other rapes and a murder, came forward earlier this year with the claim that he alone had raped the jogger. His DNA was tested against that found on a sock at the crime scene, and in May prosecutors were told it matched. The district attorney’s office reopened the case.