A federal judge on Friday approved New York City's $41 million settlement with the five black and Latino men who in 1989 were wrongfully convicted of the brutal rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park.
"It's unbelievable the injustice that we suffered throughout all these years and that we continue to suffer till today," said Raymond Santana, Jr., one of the men who was convicted in the case that has become a historic example of racial profiling and media sensationalism, in a press conference on June 27.
Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis finalized the settlement that Mayor Bill de Blasio called "a moral obligation to right this injustice."
The men, who were 14 to 16 years old at the time of their arrests, were released in 2002 after convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the crime, which DNA evidence later confirmed. They filed a lawsuit against the city the following year for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. Although then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg fought the suit while he was in office, de Blasio reversed the administration's position shortly after his election, which helped the settlement move forward after years of obstruction.
"The city has put a period at the end of this run-on sentence," said Yusef Salaam, another of the five plaintiffs.
Santana, Salaam, and two others — Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson — will receive $7.125 million from the suit, one million for each year of their lives that they spent in prison. The fifth man, Kharey Wise, will receive $12.25 million, having served 13 years.
At the time of their conviction, a judge ruled that the teenagers' coerced confessions were admissible, despite other evidence indicating that the attack had been committed by a single, unrelated person. The attack on the jogger, who was white, led to heightened racial tension between residents and police, which was fueled by lurid news reports and provocative statements by pundits and politicians. One of the parties named in the suit include former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, whose legacy is fraught with racist policies.
While defendants in lawsuits typically deny liability, this particular suit included unusual language that goes further than usual to absolve the city of blame, the New York Times reports. "[T]he city explicitly asserts that prosecutors and police detectives did nothing wrong at the time," the settlement states. "The City of New York has denied and continues to deny that it and the individually named defendants have committed any violations of law or engaged in any wrongful acts concerning or related to any allegations that were or could have been alleged."
The city's corporation counsel, Zachary Carter, nonetheless acknowledged that the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of the innocent men is "an injustice in need of redress."
"This settlement is an act of justice for those five men that is long overdue," de Blasio said in a statement after the settlement was approved.
Jonathan C. Moore, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, told the Times it was "wonderful this case is finally over for these young men, who maintained their innocence all along... [the settlement is] some measure of justice, and nobody would deny that, but no amount of money could really compensate them for what they and their families suffered."