One Police Plaza

It's Decision Day

DA set to give results of probe in jogger case

December 5, 2002

With prosecutors expected today to recommend vacating the convictions in the Central Park jogger case, lawyers for the five men found guilty of the notorious 1989 rape said their clients would accept nothing less than full exoneration.

The attorneys' declarations on the eve of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's long-awaited move drew support from Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Harlem), who contended that anything short of erasing the five's guilty verdicts for robbery and assault, as well as the brutal sex attack, "would be a further miscarriage of justice."

As lawyer Eric Seiff put it at a news conference, "If a loaf of bread is 63 percent rotten, you don't nibble at the other 37 percent" - a reference to the assertion by the defense that the confessions were coerced by the police.

Sharonne Salaam, whose son Yusef was convicted in the attack, said the case showed that there should be accountability of the Police Department when officers step over the line. "Our children were held to a very high standard at the time this occurred," she said. "As parents we too deserve justice."

Her comments - and those of the attorneys - came as Morgenthau is expected at minimum to ask the court to toss out the rape convictions.

What was not known was whether Morgenthau also would seek to undo the convictions for other crimes committed during a rampage of muggings in the park that night. Four of the men - all five were teens at the time - also were found guilty of robbing and attacking two male joggers, and two were convicted of rioting.

It was about a year ago that the five men's contention that their confessions were coerced gained credence, as Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist serving a 33-year prison sentence, abruptly confessed to the jogger's rape.

Reyes' DNA matched genetic material found at the crime scene, and in his confession, Reyes said he had acted alone. No physical evidence has connected the five convicted men to the crime.

Yesterday, Michael Smith of the National Lawyer's Guild compared the five youths' confessions to the historic Scottsboro rape case in Alabama in the 1930s when, despite a recantation by the white victim, the young black defendants were not fully exonerated until decades later.

In addition, Mimi Rosenberg of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys faulted the mass media for perpetuating negative "racial stereotypes" about young black males.

Another lawyer for the convicted men, Roger Wareham, said, "I am angry on behalf of my clients and their families, but also on behalf of those other unknown 'Central Park Fives' who are victims of a criminal justice system where race rather than truth determines guilt or innocence."

Since Reyes' confession, both Morgenthau and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have conducted separate reinvestigations. Kelly said the police department worked with the DA's office but added he will not comment until he has seen the report due from Morgenthau.

Privately, police officials have criticized Assistant District Attorney Nancy Ryan, who is conducting Morgenthau's reinvestigation, saying that she has already made her mind up to exonerate the five men of all counts.

New Look At Old Case

Facing a noon deadline, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is to file a formal response today to defense motions seeking to set aside the Central Park jogger case convictions.

WHAT'S NEXT: After receiving responses from defense attorneys, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada is to rule on the motions on Feb. 6.

THE LONE-ATTACKER CLAIM: Matias Reyes, 31, a convicted rapist and murderer, has said he alone beat and raped the jogger, a 28-year-old investment banker, on April 19, 1989.

THE CONVICTED: Four of the defendants, then teens, gave videotaped and written statements saying they participated in the attack but did not rape or bludgeon the victim themselves.

Anton McCray, 15

Raymond Santana, 14

Kevin Richardson, 14

Kharey Wise, 16

Yusef Salaam, 15

©2002 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.