Decades after five men were wrongfully convicted for the violent rape and assault of a woman jogging in Central Park, New York City has agreed to settle the case for $40 million.
Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Kharey Wise each confessed to the crime at the time, but later recanted, saying police had strong-armed the confession. The black and latino men were between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time of the incident, and ended up spending several years in jail before they were exonerated. Wise was imprisoned for 13 years, and the others for about seven years. Their names were cleared in 2002, when convicted murderer and serial killer Matia Reyes confessed to the crime, and his DNA was linked to the assault.
The five later sued the city's prosecutors and the NYPD for false arrest, malicious prosecution and racist attempts to deny the men their civil rights. They were seeking $250 million altogether.
The assault took place in 1989, at a time when racial tension was high in the city, and is now considered to be a stark reminder of how the law fell victim to racial stereotypes. The white victim, Trisha Meili — who was struck in the head with a rock before she was brutally raped, and spent six weeks in a coma after the attack – was thought to have been victimized by a "wolf pack" of black and latino men who had been "wilding" in Central Park. A few of the convicted men said they had, indeed, participated in some attacks as part of a larger group, but said that those crimes were unrelated to Meili's assault.
The case was brought back into the national spotlight in 2012 with the release of Ken Burns's documentary on the subject, called The Central Park Five. The filmmaker expressed his feelings over the decision on Twitter:
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been lobbying for the settlement, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, who argued that city officials had acted with just cause at the time and should not be prosecuted. The settlement, which was first reported by the New York Times last night, is pending approval by the city comptroller and a federal judge.