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A lot of questions, still no answers

October 21, 2002

Before we give the keys to the city to the five Harlem youths convicted, perhaps mistakenly, in the rape of the Central Park Jogger 13 years ago, let's discuss five key points.

 First, the group - teenagers then - were no Little Lord Fauntleroys. On April 19, 1989, a homeless man, a couple on a tandem bicycle, a male jogger and a male teacher were all attacked, the latter with a pipe, in the park. The five admitted in graphic detail to being part of a larger group that carried out the attacks.

Even their supporters, notably police Lt. Eric Adams of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, acknowledge that the youths committed crimes that night.

 Second, what to make of the youths' chilling videotaped statements, which have been discussed ad nauseum over the past month? At least to the naked eye, they seem chillingly convincing.

Take 16-year-old Kharey Wise, sitting at a desk chair in the 24th Precinct station house. Wise, in a red and white sweatshirt and holding a can of Pepsi, was questioned by Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer.

He seems calm and perfectly relaxed.

"Just bear with me for a moment," Lederer said at one point.

"Sure," Wise answered, before providing Lederer with details of each and every one of the park attacks, including the one on the jogger.

Was Wise threatened? Coerced? Manipulated?

If so, you sure could have fooled this reporter.

On the other hand, the viewer doesn't see that Wise had been in police custody for 7 1/2 hours and had given six prior statements, written and oral, before detectives felt he was prime for the videotape.

 Third, there's the question that no law enforcement official has explained. We know the authorities had no DNA from the five but did have the DNA of an unknown person, who has now come forward and admitted to the rape.

But what about the blood, or more specifically, the lack of blood? Why was no blood from the jogger found on any of the teens? How could they have beaten the 28-year-old investment banker and even lain on top of her, as they claimed, and not have even a trace of her blood?

Police officials have offered various scenarios, none convincing. One says the blood could have splattered away from the boys. Another says the jogger could have been beaten while unconscious - hence, no blood. A third notes that the boys - some of whom were arrested the next day - had time to go home, wash and change their clothes.

To which One Police Plaza Confidential asks: Why was no warrant obtained to search their homes for bloody clothes or shoes?

 Fourth. Matias Reyes, 31, who says that he alone raped the woman. Reyes is, as Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has said, "a monster," both a serial rapist and murderer whose modus operandi after raping his victims was to cut their eyes so that they could not identify him.

His DNA identifies him as the rapist, but we cannot believe another word he says. Just as we can't trust Justin Volpe when he says fellow cop Chuck Schwarz was not in the bathroom when Abner Louima was sodomized because Volpe's actions went beyond the boundaries of civilized behavior. Similarly we can't trust Reyes, whose behavior was equally horrific, when he says he acted alone in the rape.

In short, his testimony does not exonerate the five youths of participating in the attack.

 Finally, questions must be asked of Morgenthau. Yes, let's give him more time to investigate the circumstances of the jogger's rape. Just as a jury may have rushed to judgment to convict the five youths 13 years ago, let's make sure we do not rush here.

But what of an independent authority to investigate how his office handled the case? Was the hotshot Sex Crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein overzealous, as news accounts have suggested? Was Morgenthau out of touch and unable to prevent it?

Morgenthau won't accept outside intervention willingly. As we've said before, in this town, a district attorney is elected for life. Morgenthau is 83 years old, has been in office nearly 30 years and is probably planning to run for yet another term.

Word to the Wise. With Rudolph Giuliani and company heading south with a $4.3 million contract to clean up Mexico City's police force, he may wish to consult with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.

"In 1996," Bratton said, "I met with the mayor, the attorney general and the army commander. It was just after they had replaced all the top levels of Mexico City's police force because it was all corrupt. The day we got there they also fired half the federal police force, also for corruption.

"Since then, the mayor has been accused of taking millions of dollars, the attorney general has been charged with drug-related corruption and I believe the army general was arrested for corruption involving drug dealers."

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.