A codefendant of the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino
teenagers whose convictions in a notorious 1989 rape of a jogger in New
York City were thrown out more than a decade later, has had his conviction
on a related charge overturned.
A New York judge exonerated Steven Lopez on Monday in response to requests
by both Lopez’s lawyer and prosecutors.
Lopez was 15 when he was first named in the indictment along with five
other Black and Latino teenagers for the night-time rape and attempted
murder of Trisha Meili, an investment banker whose horrific injuries
became the subject of sensationalist media coverage.
Lopez later pleaded guilty to robbing a male jogger that same night in a
deal with prosecutors that saw the charges alleging his involvement in the
attack on Meili dropped, and was sentenced to between 1-1/2 and 4-1/2
years in a state prison.
Judge Ellen Biben of the New York State Supreme Court on Monday agreed to
a motion by Manhattan’s chief prosecutor and a lawyer for Lopez to vacate
the plea that Lopez entered at age 17, ruling that it was involuntary,
unconstitutional and based in part on false witness statements.
“What happened to you was a profound injustice and an American injustice,”
Eric Shapiro Lopez, a defence lawyer who was not yet born when his client
was indicted, said in remarks to Lopez before the court. “They say justice
delayed is justice denied and I’m sorry we’ve had to wait for 30 years.”
Lopez, whose long beard is now greying, appeared to have tears in his
Monday’s decision closes another chapter in a case that has become
emblematic of judicial overreach in the United States, racial profiling by
both law enforcement and news outlets, as well as the malpractice of
police officers forcing confessions from innocent people.
Meili was beaten and left for dead. The attack was seized upon by local
media as an emblem of soaring crime rates in New York City in the 1980s.
News stories frequently referred to the boys arrested by the New York
Police Department as animals.
Decades before he would become president, Donald Trump, then a prominent
real-estate developer, took out full-page advertisements in city
newspapers calling for the boys to be executed.
Later, the five boys’ convictions were overturned in 2002 after evidence
linked a convicted serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, to the
attack. Prosecutors who reviewed the case had concluded the teenagers’
confessions, made after hours of interrogations, were deeply flawed.
“A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies,” they
wrote in court papers at the time. “The accounts given by the five
defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually
every major aspect of the crime.”
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef
Salaam, now known as the Exonerated Five, brought a lawsuit against the
city, which was settled for $41m in 2014.
Lopez was not part of that lawsuit, and his story has often been
overlooked in coverage of the exoneration of his former codefendants.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told the court that there was no
physical evidence linking Lopez to the attacks on either jogger and that
the witness statements naming him had been recanted. That, coupled with
Lopez’s youth at the time, made the plea involuntary, Bragg said.
“Mr Lopez, we wish you peace and healing,” the judge said after dismissing
“Thank you,” Lopez replied, his only remarks in court.
“It is so ordered,” the judge said, as Lopez rose to shake the chief
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