U.S. judge approves $41 million settlement of 'Central Park Jogger' suit

Reuters

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has approved a $41 million settlement between New York City and five men wrongfully convicted of the 1989 rape of a woman jogger in Central Park, ending a decade-long civil rights lawsuit stemming from the infamous crime.

The settlement’s details had been previously reported but were publicly disclosed for the first time on Friday, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis in New York signed off on the deal.

The brutal attack, known as the "Central Park Jogger" case, drew national headlines and was cited as evidence that the city's crime rate had spiraled out of control.

The five men, all black or Hispanic teenagers at the time, were arrested soon after the assault on 28-year-old Trisha Meili, a white investment banker. The men confessed following lengthy interrogations but later recanted, claiming their admissions were the result of exhaustion and police coercion.

The men were eventually exonerated after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer, confessed in 2002; DNA testing would tie him to the scene. By then, however, all five had served prison terms.

Korey Wise, who at 16 was the oldest at the time of the attack, served 13 years and will receive $12.25 million. The other four - Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam - will be paid $7.125 million each, or roughly $1 million for each year of imprisonment.

The settlement appears to be the largest in a wrongful conviction case in the city's history and is in line with some of the biggest recent jury verdicts in such cases, suggesting the city did not receive a significant discount by settling.

But a deal seemed a foregone conclusion after Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected last year, following a campaign in which he vowed to end the litigation.

His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had fiercely fought the lawsuit.

"This settlement is an act of justice for those five men that is long overdue," de Blasio said in a statement on Friday.

The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement. The city's top lawyer, Zachary Carter, said in a statement that a review of the record suggested the detectives and prosecutors who handled the original investigation "acted reasonably, given the circumstances."

In an email, Wise's lawyer, Jane Fisher-Byrialsen, said her client hoped to work with charities that help former inmates.

"I am grateful that Korey has come to the end of this very long road," she said.

The agreement is one of several major civil rights settlements under de Blasio, indicating he may take a less combative approach to such cases than Bloomberg did.

In February, the administration agreed to pay Brooklyn man David Ranta $6.4 million for his wrongful conviction for murdering a rabbi in 1990; Jabbar Collins, a Brooklyn man erroneously convicted in the 1994 killing of another rabbi, will get $10 million under a deal reached last month.

In July, the city agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle claims that a Rikers Island jail inmate died in 2012 after guards beat him.

(Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

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