This past week, a Manhattan federal judge put the lawsuit on hold, so new city Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter could reach a settlement with the Central Park 5.
These men were originally convicted of beating and raping 29-year-old Trisha Meili based on confessions they made. Their convictions were overturned when another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to committing the crime and said he did so alone.
Even so, the Bloomberg administration resisted intense political pressure to settle the lawsuit — and rightly so. Because there was too strong a case for the city to simply cut a huge check. Even members of then-DA Robert Morgenthau’s staff suggested he’d acted far too hastily and arbitrarily in vacating the convictions.
A panel headed by famed anti-corruption prosecutor Michael Armstrong concluded that the five had “more likely than not” participated in the jogger attack — and certainly engaged in a violent series of “wilding” assaults in Central Park that night that left two other persons seriously injured.
Moreover, the trial jury knew that no DNA evidence connected them to the crime. Indeed, they’d also been told another unknown assailant had taken part in the attack. And Reyes, who was never questioned under oath before the convictions were tossed, reportedly told a fellow inmate that “a group of kids” had attacked the jogger before he came along.
The five, teenagers at the time, were convicted largely on the strength of their graphic and detailed confessions, which they later recanted but which were captured on videotape in the presence of their parents or guardians. Some repeated their confessions years later at parole hearings. And even Morgenthau himself concluded that, contrary to the five’s later allegations, there had been no coercion or misconduct in the way their confessions had been obtained.
Ken Burns turned the case into a cause célèbre with his advocacy film on the case (his daughter had worked for the lawyers for the accused). The City Council also tried to up the ante by honoring the five.
Against this public pressure, The Post stood virtually alone in opposing both the hasty overturning of their convictions and in making a huge cash settlement.
They may well have been innocent of the Central Park jogger rape. But these are no innocent victims. And they don’t deserve the keys to the city treasury.