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Prosecutor: Drop all convictions in Central Park jogger case

Five teens confessed to the rape and assault, were convicted, and have served their sentences.
Five teens confessed to the rape and assault, were convicted, and have served their sentences.

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New York's district attorney asks a judge to overturn convictions in the Central Park jogger case. CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports (December 5)
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CNN's Deborah Feyerick recalls the events leading to the convictions of five men for the 1989 rape of a Central Park jogger and whether the convictions will be vacated. (December 5)
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• Court Interactive map of the case external link
• Affirmation in response to motion: People v. Wise, et al.  (FindLaw, PDF)external link

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A final ruling to dismiss all convictions against five men for the 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger may come as early as next week, a defense attorney said.

A decision by New York Supreme Court Judge Charles Tejada will be the final step in an extraordinary case that took another turn Thursday when Manhattan's district attorney, Robert Morgentha, recommended throwing out all convictions against the five defendants for the brutal attack.

Defense attorney Michael Warren said he expects a ruling by Tejada to dismiss the convictions to be "forthwith.

"We expect for it to be made within the next day or two, perhaps maybe on Monday at the latest," Warren said.

In the wake of Morgenthau's motion, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked Police Committee Raymond Kelly "to determine if any changes in police procedures are merited." He also called for public support for the victim in the case.

"We will never forget the brutal and shameful attack on the Central Park jogger, nor will we forget the tremendous courage she has demonstrated through her inspiring recovery," he said in a statement. "It is mine and every New Yorker's obligation to make sure such disgraceful episodes never happen again and to make sure we continue growing closer together and not farther apart."

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise were all 14 to 16 years old at the time of the Central Park assault. Wise served more than 11 years in prison for the attack, while the other four served about seven years each.

But Matias Reyes, currently serving a 33-year sentence for raping and murdering another woman in 1989, told prison guards in January that he alone was responsible for the Central Park rape. DNA testing determined that semen found on the jogger belonged to Reyes, and his pubic hair was on her sock.

That evidence, combined with "significant weaknesses" in the men's confessions, "increases the probability that the evidence would result in a different verdict," Morgenthau stated in a 58-page motion Thursday.

"In the furor to solve this crime, justice was lost," Salaam's mother, Saronne Salaam, said as she awaited Morgenthau's motion. "The police said the children were to be made an example of. That's not what justice is about."

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Thursday's filing by the district attorney's office is the same as a not guilty verdict by a jury. "It doesn't mean they (the five defendants) weren't there, or participated (in the assault) in some way. It just means it can't be proven."

The victim was hospitalized for six weeks after the assault and was unable to identify her assailants. Prosecutors relied on videotaped confessions from four of the five youths and on physical evidence to obtain convictions.

Defense lawyers argued those confessions were coerced, and testing after Reyes' confession undermined a central prosecution claim -- that hairs found on Richardson matched hairs from the victim's head. (Questions about the interrogation)

Morgenthau, who prosecuted the youths in 1990, said he would not seek to retry the case and has asked that charges in attacks on other people in the park be dropped as well.

"There is a probability that the new evidence, had it been available to the juries, would have resulted in verdicts more favorable to the defendants, not only on the charges arising from the attack on the female jogger but on the other charges as well," Morgenthau wrote.

Protesters march outside New York's State Supreme Court building Thursday, demanding a reversal of the convictions.
Protesters march outside New York's State Supreme Court building Thursday, demanding a reversal of the convictions.

The victim, now 41, has made no public comment on the case since Reyes' confession emerged.

Michael Palladino, vice president of the Detectives' Endowment Association -- the police detectives' union -- called accusations that the youths' confessions were coerced are "ludicrous and without merit."

"We think our detectives did a very complete and thorough investigation back in 1989," Palladino said. "The union stands behind our detectives and the work they've done 100 percent."

The Central Park jogger case has been among the most controversial of Morgenthau's 27 years as Manhattan's top prosecutor. Defense attorneys for the five men claim their clients were targeted for prosecution because of their skin color. The victim of the attack is a white woman, while the men convicted of the crime were African American and Latino.

The police and prosecutors involved in the case remain strongly convinced that the five defendants were involved in the attack in some way. But legal analyst Toobin said the case illustrates potential shortcomings in the criminal justice system.

"Is the system stacked sometimes against certain people? That's a question that remains from the case."

All but Santana still live in the New York area and are working, their lawyers said. Santana is back in prison on a drug conviction, his sentence stiffened because of his conviction in the jogger case. Warren said he would move for Santana's immediate release after Morgenthau filed his report with the court.

Tejada had been expected to issue a ruling in February, but defense lawyers planned to ask him to speed up the process because of Santana's incarceration.

-- CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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