Sixth boy charged in Central Park jogging case acquitted

NEW YORK, July 25 (Reuters) – A long-overlooked co-defendant of Central Park Five, a group of black and Hispanic teens wrongly convicted of raping a white jogger in 1989 on false confessions acquitted of a related conviction by a New York judge on Monday.

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

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

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New York State Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben on Monday approved a motion by Manhattan’s chief prosecutor and a lawyer representing Lopez to withdraw Lopez’s plea when he was 17 years old. section on false witness statements.

“What happened to you was a deep injustice and an American injustice,” Eric Shapiro Lopez, a lawyer who was not yet born when his client was charged, said in remarks 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, seemed to have tears in his eyes.

Meili was beaten and left for dead. The attack was seized upon by local media as emblematic of New York City’s rising crime rate in the 1980s. News reports often referred to the boys arrested as animals by the New York police.

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

Later, the five boys convicted at the trial were acquitted when the real assailant confessed and was linked to the crime through DNA evidence. The case became a watchword for judicial force majeure, racial profiling by law enforcement and news outlets alike, and the malpractice of police officers extracting confessions from innocent people.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam, now known as the Exonerated Five, have 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 in coverage of his former co-defendants’ exoneration.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told the court there was no physical evidence linking Lopez to the assaults on both joggers, and the witness statements in which he was mentioned had been revoked.

That, coupled with Lopez’s youth at the time, made the plea 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 comments in court.

“It is so ordered,” the judge said, as Lopez rose to shake hands with the chief prosecutor.

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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