Sun, Sep 07, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Settlement granted to five men in 1989 US rape case

MILLION PER YEAR:The mayor of New York said the decision was a long-overdue act of justice, while a city lawyer said the original case was handled reasonably

AFP, NEW YORK

A US federal judge has approved a US$41 million settlement for five men wrongfully convicted of the brutal 1989 rape and attempted murder of a jogger in New York’s Central Park.

The settlement ended a civil rights lawsuit over the “Central Park Jogger” case that lasted decades.

The men, teenagers from Harlem at the time, were falsely convicted of nearly killing 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili while “wilding” — gangs assaulting strangers — through the park on a warm April night.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the settlement, which will see each of the wrongly accused receive about US$1 million for each year of imprisonment, as an “act of justice for those five men that is long overdue.”

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought the case.

“With today’s approval by a federal judge, we can finally put this case behind us and these five men and their families can begin to heal these wounds and move forward,” De Blasio added.

The city did not admit any wrongdoing, with senior lawyer Zachary Carter saying that “both the investigating detectives and the assistant district attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably.”

The case was a crucible for tensions and fears in New York at a time when race relations were fraught, a crack cocaine epidemic ravaged poor communities, violent crime was rampant and the gulf between rich and poor gaped wide.

Meili went for a night run in northern Central Park, was ambushed on a dark path and dragged into a ravine where she was beaten, sexually assaulted and left for dead.

She gradually recovered, but had no memory of the attack, leaving police and prosecutors under intense pressure from media outlets and terrified New Yorkers to find the assailants.

Within hours, investigators picked up the five teenagers in a sweep of the area and interrogated them at length, often without the presence of an attorney or a parent at first.

Despite dramatic holes in the case against them and no DNA match from the crime scene, all were convicted.

The teenagers spent between six and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed that he had attacked Meili alone.

Their case was turned into a film, The Central Park Five, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2012.

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