NYC to Pay $40 Million to Central Park Five Defendants

Some justice at last to the Central Park Five -- New York City agreed to pay $40 million to the five Black and Latino men wrongfully charged as teens with the rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989.

Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam were exonerated in 2002. They filed their lawsuit in 2003. It has taken the city 12 years to finally pay up.

Four of them served 7 years in prison and one served 13 years. Their convictions, largely the product of false and coerced confessions, were overturned when the true perpetrator, Mattias Reyes confessed. DNA evidence confirmed he was the rapist, and although he could not be charged due to the statute of limitations, by the time of his confession he was already serving a 33 year to life sentence for other rapes. More background here. Also see When Justice is a Game and Marked as the Enemy, and New Light on Jogger's Rape Calls Evidence Into Question.[More...]

This case was a travesty.
The footprints and semen didn’t match; there was no blood or mud on the defendants’ clothing; their supposed confessions were factually wrong; and one police officer testified that the wording in three of the written confessions was his own. A forensic expert testified that the hair samples were “more consistent” with Caucasian than African-American hair, but the prosecution successfully argued that this meant they were not inconsistent. Even after their exoneration, prosecutor Linda Fairstein maintained that the young men had to have been responsible for a number of other park muggings that night, but the timeline does not add up, and none of the victims of those muggings were able to conclusively identify any of the defendants.

A special "Bronx Cheer" should go out to Donald Trump, who took out a full page newspaper ad calling for the teens' execution and for NY to restore the death penalty, and former Deputy District Attorney Linda Fairstein, now a crime novelist, whose conduct in the case was specifically criticized in the dissenting opinion of Judge Vito Titone in Yusef Saalem's case. According to the author of the "When Justice is a Game" article, Judge Titone later told Newsday:

I was concerned about a criminal justice system that would tolerate the conduct of the prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, who deliberately engineered the 15-year-old's confession. . . . Fairstein wanted to make a name. She didn't care. She wasn't a human."
Also see, Ash-Blond Ambition.
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    Would be nice if the money could come from (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by ruffian on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:08:36 AM EST
    Trumps personal funds.

    Really glad to see some justice here, even though 13 years of life in prison is impossible to quantify financially. Hope it gives these guys another chance at life.

    How about if Fairstein (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Zorba on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 08:18:53 AM EST
    kicked in a huge amount, too?
    She must be making some money off her books.

    Was living in NY (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:23:15 AM EST
    When this happened.  It was a stinking hot mess from the start.  And Trump, don't get me started.  If there is a hell that man has a stall waiting.  He has left a slime trail through history that is unrivaled in the modern age.

    Once again... (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by kdog on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:17:04 AM EST
    NYC taxpayers pay for the crimes of the police and district attorney's office.  Doesn't seem fair on it's face, but since the people of the city of NY are responsible for their government I guess it is fair.  The answer is for the people to demand better and vote for better.  

    At the very least these settlements and verdicts should come directly out of the police and DA budgets though...if we can't/won't reign them in bia the vote, nor hold individuals responsible for their dirty, we can at least make the settlements hurt the systems that caused them and give them less money to ruin more lives.

    Most likely the city is insured against this type (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by ruffian on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:21:06 PM EST
    of liability and no one responsible will see any hit at all. I don't remember if anyone paid any price in employment status.

    Premiums may go up though, which will hit all the taxpayers. But the amount of increase spread that widely will not be enough to change voting habits. Hopefully conscience will though.


    coerced confessions (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Lfrieling on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 08:21:46 AM EST
    It is still startling to me, even after 38 years of criminal lawyering, that confessions can be coerced with out-and-out water boarding or other blatant torture.

    I have of course learned that my instincts were just plain wrong.  i see two issues.  First, education.  Juries, judges, and civilians must learn that it is not THAT hard to make a false confession occur.  The suspect will frequently not have real insight into why they confessed to what they did NOT do.
    Second, we (state and national defense attorney groups and others) have not yet succeeded in having a required video of every interrogation.  The LEOs should have nothing to hide.  The suspect is protected (or condemned).  And, with the video, the "My Cousin Vinny" confession issue is solved.  Remember "I killed the clerk?"  making it to trial as "I killed the clerk."  Lenny

    Investigative Judge System Would Help (none / 0) (#5)
    by RickyJim on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 11:31:43 AM EST
    The Ash-Blond Ambition link at the bottom of the article gives important further background. Instead of elected prosecutors and judges and both sides having to sue each other for evidence, they do it better in countries not as much in love with the adversary system as is the US.  A judge (like the prosecutor, civil service) is in charge of the police investigation from the start.  All collected evidence is held by the court and is made available to both prosecution and defense.  A prosecutor won't even be assigned unless the judge, after perhaps holding hearings, decides the case should be prosecuted.

    By the way, I regard making victims of mistakes of law enforcement and the legal system (Like Rodney King and the CP5) far wealthier than they would ordinarily have become, at the taxpayers' expense, a bad idea.  It doesn't seem just when compared to what the US government has done, without compensation, to so many people in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Why shouldn't judges, juries and prosecutors be personally liable for their bad decisions, just like everybody else who does their job poorly?

    How 'bout we lock you away... (none / 0) (#7)
    by unitron on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 10:15:35 PM EST
    ..., unjustifiably, for 10 years or so and see how much compensation you feel entitled to for a decade of your life you'll never get back?

    It is not Compensation that Bothers me (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by RickyJim on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 11:46:49 AM EST
    It is the capriciousness and inequity of the amounts given and lack of liability of the people who actually caused the problem.  The Central Park 5 had the threatening Al Sharpton on their side; the family of the poor innocent Afghani taxi driver, who was tortured to death by US soldiers, as recounted in Alex Gibney's "Taxi to the Dark Side", had nobody.  How much do you think the State of Florida (ie Florida taxpayers) should compensate George Zimmerman?

    The "threatening Al Sharpton" - heh (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Yman on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 12:22:02 PM EST
    Scary, "threatening" guy.

    How much do you think the State of Florida (ie Florida taxpayers) should compensate George Zimmerman?

    Not sure.  Has he established a cause of action for wrongful prosecution?  Has the state offered a settlement?  Was he imprisoned for 7-13 years for a crime he didn't commit?  Has he established that he was wrongfully sent to jail?

    BTW - Not sure what makes the results of the different cases "capricious".  The cases you cite had differing causes of action, differing jurisdictions, differing laws among those jurisdictions and differing levels of potential damages.  It's not apples to apples ... it's apples to oranges to starfruit to mangoes ...


    They didn't do the rape, but... (none / 0) (#11)
    by thomas rogan on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 07:57:16 PM EST
    Wikipedia footnote ten on central park case:

    "Goldblatt, Mark (December 16, 2002). "Certainties and Unlikelihoods: The Central Park Jogger, 2002". National Review. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "On the night of April 19, 1989, just after 9 o'clock, it is certain, absolutely certain, that Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Yusef Salaam, 15, Antron McCray, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, ran amok for a half hour across a quarter-mile stretch of Central Park--chasing after bicyclists, assaulting pedestrians, and (in two separate incidents) pummeling two men into unconsciousness with a metal pipe, stones, punches, and kicks to the head. The teens later confessed on videotape to these attacks--which they couldn't have known about unless they had participated. As recently as this year, Richardson and Santana again acknowledged their roles in these crimes."

    I am Totally Flabbergasted (none / 0) (#12)
    by RickyJim on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 08:41:16 PM EST
    by the ability of some ordinarily sensible people to beg the important question of just how much compensation is justified.  For a sample of the inequities that can occur, see this report for example.  How does one come up with a figure of $10M a piece for these guys?  If they paid them $100M a piece would any of you object?

    Why are you so surprised? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Yman on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 11:06:43 PM EST
    What do wartime payments from the military to people who suffer property damage and personal injury in a warzone have to do with Wrongful conviction settlements paid to those wrongfully imprisoned in New York?  Different jurisdictions, different laws, different damages, etc. etc...

    THEY ARE NOT "INNOCENT" (none / 0) (#14)
    by Alexei Schacht on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 02:42:19 PM EST
    While some commenters have pointed out that the defendants admit to this day that they violently assaulted other people in Central Park what no one has pointed out is that the assaults which they admit (on Michael Vigna, Antonio Diaz, David Goode, Robert Garner, David Lewis and John Loughlin) would have gotten them years in jail even without the charge of raping Trisha Meili. The crimes that they admit having committed  (and for which they were also convicted) are themselves awful and vicious ones that should deprive them of any sympathy. That they are receiving boatloads of money for spending time in jail when they should have been in jail is absurd.  They were not "wrongfully imprisoned."

    And, in any event, they were not innocent of the attack on Meili. Even the motion by the District Attorney to set aside the verdicts merely says that had the "new"evidence been available at the time of trial there is a probability that the verdict would have been different. It does not say that they are innocent.

    And the fact of the matter is that the proof of at least some of the defendants' guilt even without the confessions is clear and strong. For instance, Kharey Wise confessed to friends Ronald Williams, Shabazz Head and  Melody Jackson. Kharey Wise also told detectives that another person took a Walkman from Meili although he said this while she was still in a coma and not yet able to tell Detectives that her Walkman was missing, This was exactly the kind of fact which proves his guilt, and undermines the absurd idea that 5 defendants in the same case all gave false confessions, as there is no way the police could have fed him this detail. For each defendant there are little telling facts such as these, although the proof was particularly strong against Wise.

    Unfortunately the evidence in the case is not available on-line so most people work from secondary and tertiary sources. As such, none of the excellent work that Jeralyn and others on this cite have done in other cases has been done here with this case.

    I haven't really followed this case, ... (none / 0) (#15)
    by Yman on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 10:10:23 PM EST
    ... but you forgot to include some extremely important details:

    1.  No DNA evidence tied these five to the crime and the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the confessions.

    2.  The confessions were often inconsistent and did not match up with established facts, as admitted by the prosecutor's office afterwards:

    A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies. ... The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime--who initiated the attack, who knocked the victim down, who undressed her, who struck her, who held her, who raped her, what weapons were used in the course of the assault, and when in the sequence of events the attack took place. ... In many other respects the defendants' statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence. And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact.

    3.  Another man (Matias Reyes) confessed that he had committed the assault and that he had acted alone. He provided a detailed account of the attack, corroborated by other evidence. The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the crime and identified him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim.


    not important (none / 0) (#16)
    by Alexei Schacht on Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 04:05:48 PM EST
    No DNA belonging to the defendants was found because none of them raped her and ejaculated. Some only punched or held the jogger down, leaving no DNA behind. These five were part of a group of about 30 people who ran through the park committing mayhem. Many of them, like Matias Reyes, were never caught. That their statements about what happened differed is not surprising. When people in what amounts to a riot do many different things and adrenaline is pumping it would be shocking of they all remembered everything perfectly accurately. Indeed, if all confessions matched perfectly someone might say that was proof that the police fabricated them. If it were true that the confessions were false then wouldn't those people who engineered the miscarriage have gotten things straight and made these dupes confess to worse facts than they did?