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Jogger saga isn't over yet

December 9, 2002

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Nancy Ryan's 58-page report setting aside the five Harlem teenagers' convictions in the Central Park jogger rape raises questions that cannot be resolved without a full public hearing under oath - and perhaps not even then.

Already, there are indications that neither Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly desire such a hearing.

What we do know is that a serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, has come forward to say he raped the jogger. The only semen discovered at the crime scene was his so he's obviously telling the truth.

The five teenagers who confessed to the rape, each implicating others but not himself, may or may not be telling the truth. Despite their confessions - which they and their supporters now say were coerced - no semen from any of them was found.

Reyes also maintains he acted alone. But because he told the truth about raping the jogger, does this mean he is telling the truth about acting alone?

Unlike the DNA, one accepts the word of a serial rapist and murderer at one's peril. On Page 22 of her report Ryan says of him:

"Information Reyes has provided about himself and his history has consistently proven to be reliable and accurate, both about matters related to the case and matters with no direct connection to it. Reyes has also been candid, even with respect to aspects of his history that might cast doubt on his credibility."

Yet police officials told Newsday last week Reyes told another inmate "a group of kids" had assaulted the jogger before he arrived.

Police officials also told Newsday last week Ryan refused to allow detectives re-investigating the case to give Reyes a lie detector test.

Police officials also told Newsday Ryan interceded with the second inmate's lawyer to stop the detectives from interviewing him.

None of this is in Ryan's report.

Now let's turn to the asterisk on Page 12 that raises more questions about the truth or falsity of at least one of the teenagers' involvement.

That teenager is Kharey Wise, who in his videotaped confession in police custody said that while he did not rape the jogger, he held and fondled her leg while others held her down.

 

"Her testimony," Ryan writes, "related to a single inculpatory statement she said Wise had made to her, after he had been indicted."

Now we come to the asterisk, which states: "That witness was Melody Jackson. Her brother, much younger than she, was a friend of Wise, and she herself had known Wise for years. She testified that on one occasion when she was in the family apartment where her brother lived, Wise had telephoned from jail. He called to speak with members of the family as he often did. She testified that when she got on the telephone, she told him she could not believe what she was hearing about his having sex with 'that woman.' According to Jackson's testimony, Wise replied that he had not had sex with her but had only held and fondled the victim's leg ... "

Here, Wise places himself at the rape. And he does so not under duress to the police detectives who supposedly coerced his confession, as he and the other teenagers and their supporters now claim, but to a family friend weeks later on the telephone from a jail cell.

Not only did Jackson testify to this at Wise's trial, but police officials told Newsday last week that when detectives re-interviewed her this year, she repeated her statement. Yet Ryan's report makes no mention of this.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, declined to comment on these omissions, other than to point to Page 2 of Ryan's report, which says that the report "does not describe the full scope of the review."

So where do we go from here?

Morgenthau left town last week with no explanation of the report.

Kelly has reassigned his team of lawyers from re-investigating the case's evidence to investigating Ryan's report. Kelly refuses to say what he will do with the findings or whether he will even make them public.

This raises another question: Is there a quid pro quo between him and Morgenthau not to criticize each other's department?

Reacting to Ryan's report, Kelly said, "I am encouraged that the district attorney's report has neither exonerated the defendants nor found collusion or coercion on the part of the police."

No, the jogger case is not over. This may be just the beginning.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.