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Judge clears five men in Central Park jogger case
Vindicated at last

By Danny Katch | January 3, 2003 | Page 2

THIRTEEN YEARS ago, the Central Park jogger rape case was the centerpiece of a racist law-and-order hysteria in New York City. Now it's a symbol of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Last month, a judge reversed the convictions of five men for the 1989 rape after a convicted rapist confessed and was found to have a DNA match to the evidence. The five exonerated men, who were 14 to 16 years old at the time, each served at least six years in prison--and have had to report to the sex offenders' registry every year afterward.

From the night that the young white stockbroker was brutally raped and beaten, the five boys were caught in a lynch-mob atmosphere. Newspapers called them "animals" and warned about other "wolf packs" of Black and Latino youth wandering the city's parks at night.

In the midst of the hysteria, few believed the boys' claims of innocence, even though no physical evidence linked them to the crime. The only thing that cops and prosecutors had against the youths--who were picked out of dozens of Black and Latino teens grabbed in a police sweep of the park and a nearby housing complex--was that four gave confessions after hours of interrogations while their families were denied access to them.

At the trial, Judge Thomas Galligan rubber-stamped the media's guilty verdict, according to Michael Warren, an attorney for three of the men. Not only did Galligan accept the tainted confessions as evidence, Warren told Socialist Worker, but he also "allowed prosecutors to misrepresent scientific evidence. The prosecutors said the DNA results were inconclusive, implying that there might be a match, even though they knew conclusively that there was no DNA match to any of the boys."

All of this came to public attention only this year, when Matias Reyes confessed to the rape from prison. Reyes raped four more women after the Central Park attack, killing one. He was only caught when two neighbors heard the screams of a victim and captured him for police.

Today, there is finally vindication for the five men and the families, who have spoken out for their innocence for 13 years. Warren credited these efforts as crucial. "You have to fight these battles politically, as well as legally," Warren said.

Unfortunately, many city officials haven't given up trying to smear the five men. Police frantically tried and failed to connect Reyes to any of the five. And news commentators still parrot the police line that the boys must have been doing something wrong that night.

In reality, New York's cops and prosecutors are scared that their actions 13 years ago will come to light today. Lawyers for the five are planning to prosecute the prosecutors for their misconduct, and there are calls for far-reaching reforms, such as videotaping all police interrogations. This could be a victory not only for the Central Park jogger five, but many others, too.

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