Three of five men wrongfully convicted in Central Park rape speak of loss
The 1989 crime polarized New York City along racial lines, and sent the five to prison
In 2002, a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone
A tearful Kevin Richardson says, "All we wanted to tell you all was that we didn't do it"
Three of the five men wrongly convicted in the horrific beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989 said Friday that a $40 million settlement with New York City cannot begin to replace all they lost.
Surrounded by relatives, attorneys and community activists, the three men spoke at an emotional news conference on the steps of City Hall one day after the city comptroller announced the approval of a settlement in their civil rights lawsuit.
They spoke of the degradation of being caught up as teenagers in one of New York’s most notorious crimes, of watching their youthful dreams swept away forever in a sensational case that split the city along racial lines.
“You all don’t really understand what we went through,” said a tearful Kevin Richardson, who served about seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. “You tried to dehumanize us… but we’re still here. We’re strong. Nobody gave us a chance except the people that believed in us. People called us animals, a wolf pack… It still hurts me emotionally.”
He added, “Now it feels great to have a voice… All we wanted to tell you all was that we didn’t do it.”
The settlement still has to be approved by Judge Deborah Batts of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the men filed their lawsuit. City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Thursday said the settlement was “a prudent and equitable solution for all parties to the lawsuit and closes a very difficult chapter in our City’s history.”
The settlement marks the end of a dark episode for the city, the close of case that became emblematic of rampant lawlessness. Five minority teenagers, who became known as the Central Park Five, were convicted in 1990.They were later exonerated after authorities agreed with their claims that they were coerced into making incriminating statements.
“I wake up every morning and put the gloves on and still want to fight because my childhood was taken from me,” said Raymond Santana. Jr., who also served about seven years in prison. “The opportunity to become a productive man was taken and instead you gave me prison.”
He added, “Today’s supposed to be a joyful celebration and again I want to put the gloves back on. I don’t know how to take them off. All I know how to do is … speak against injustice and fight for somebody else who has been wrongfully convicted. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the closure. It was about 12 years the city saying we’re guilty.”
The agreement between the city law department and the five men – who served between seven and 13 years in prison – averages about $1 million per year of incarceration, a source with knowledge of the settlement told CNN last week.
One of the men, Kharey Wise, served 13 years in prison. Two others – Yusef Salaam and Antron McCray – each served about seven years. Wise and McCray did not attend Friday’s news conference.
“I don’t know if I truly believe that this day would happen,” Salaam told reporters.
Jonathan Moore, an attorney who represented the men, said the judge was expected to sign off on the settlement within two weeks.
“It’s a significant amount of money that represents … an understanding by the city and by the people involved in this case that something wrong happened back in April of 1989 and they’ll never admit it,” he said. “They should, if they ever want to cleanse their soul, but they’ll never admit the reality of what they did.”
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old Wall Street investment banker jogging through Central Park was raped, viciously beaten and left for dead. She would have no memory of the attack.
That same night, a group of black and Latino boys had been in the park, throwing rocks at cars and assaulting people in a practice the media and law enforcement at the time called “wilding.”
An investigation led to the arrest of five teens who were accused of rampaging through the park in a “wolf pack” and preying on innocent victims. They were charged and convicted.
“If they had their way,” Salaam told CNN in 2012, “we would have been hanging from one of those lovely trees here in Central Park.”
The victim, Trisha Meili, kept her identity hidden for 14 years until the publication of her book, “I Am the Central Park Jogger.”
“I guess there are lots of theories out there but I just don’t know and it’s almost too confusing for me to understand,” she told CNN in 2003, referring to the false confessions given by the five men. “I’ve had to come to peace with it by saying: ‘You know what? I’m just not going to know.’”
Three of the convicted young men had finished their prison terms, one was on parole and the fifth was in jail on an unrelated offense when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer in 2001 confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone.
DNA analysis later determined that Reyes did rape the jogger and that hair evidence used in the boys’ trials did not match.