Sixth boy charged in Central Park jogger case exonerated

NEW YORK, July 25 (Reuters) – A long-overlooked co-defendant of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Hispanic teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white jogger in 1989 on the basis of false confessions, has been acquitted of a similar conviction, a New York judges on Monday.

Steven Lopez was 15 when he was first named in the indictment, along with other black and Hispanic teenagers, for the nighttime rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili, an investment banker whose horrific injuries became the subject of sensationalist media coverage.

Lopez later pleaded guilty to robbing a male jogger that same night in a deal with prosecutors who saw charges dropped over alleged involvement in the attack on Meili, and was sentenced to between 1-1/2 and Sentenced to 4-1/2 years in state prison.

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On Monday, Judge Ellen Biben of the New York State Supreme Court granted a motion by Manhattan’s chief prosecutor and an attorney representing Lopez to vacate the plea bargain Lopez filed at the age of 17, ruling that it was involuntary, unconstitutional and reasonable be part about false testimonies.

“What happened to you was a deep injustice and an American injustice,” said Eric Shapiro Lopez, a defense attorney who was not born when his client was charged, in a remark to Lopez in court. “They say justice delayed is justice denied and I’m sorry we had to wait 30 years.” Lopez, whose long beard is now graying, appeared to have tears in his eyes.

Meili was beaten and left for dead. The attack was picked up by local media as emblematic of the rising crime rate in New York City in the 1980s. In the news, the boys arrested by the New York police were often referred to as animals.

Decades before he became President of the United States, Donald Trump, then a prominent real estate developer, ran full-page ads in city newspapers calling for the boys’ executions.

Steven Lopez, a co-defendant in the Central Park Five case, exits the Supreme Court after being exonerated July 25, 2022 in New York City, New York, United States. REUTERS/David ‘Dee’ Delgado

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Later, the five boys convicted in court were exonerated when the real attacker confessed and was linked to the crime through DNA evidence. The case has become a buzzword for judicial abuse, racial profiling by both law enforcement and news outlets, and the misconduct of police officers who coerce confessions from innocent people.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, now known as the Exonerated Five, spent years in prison. They filed a lawsuit against the city, which was settled in 2014 for $41 million.

Lopez was not part of that lawsuit, and his story has often been overlooked when it comes to exonerating his former co-defendants.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told the court that there was no physical evidence linking Lopez to the attacks on either jogger and that the testimonies that named him had been retracted.

That, coupled with Lopez’s youth at the time, made the lawsuit involuntary, Bragg told the court.

“Mr. Lopez, we wish you peace and healing,” the judge said after dismissing the charges.

“Thank you,” Lopez replied, his only remark in court.

“It’s so ordered,” the judge said as Lopez stood up to shake hands with the chief prosecutor.

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Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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