The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

NYC agrees to $40 million settlement with 5 cleared in Central Park jogger attack

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - New York City said Friday it has reached a settlement with five men who were falsely convicted in the vicious 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger, one of the most lurid crime cases in the city's history.

The announcement was made by Comptroller Scott Stringer. A city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the amount at $40 million. Stringer says that's "in the ballpark" but wouldn't give specifics.

The deal needs approval from the comptroller and a federal judge.

Five black and Hispanic defendants were convicted in the attack on a white woman who had gone for a run in the park. They served six to 13 years in prison before their convictions were thrown out in 2002 because of evidence connecting someone else to the attack. They sued police and prosecutors for $250 million.

With New York awash in murders and drugs at the time, the crime was seen as a terrifying symbol of the city's racial and class divide and proof that it was sliding into lawlessness. The attack gave rise to the term "wilding" for urban mayhem by marauding teenagers.

The victim, Trisha Meili, then 28, was found in the brush, more than 75 per cent of her blood drained from her body and her skull smashed. She was in a coma for 12 days, left with permanent damage, and remembers nothing about the attack.

Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson, both 14 at the time, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were rounded up and arrested. After hours of interrogation, four of them gave confessions on video.

At the trials, their lawyers argued the confessions were coerced. At the time, DNA testing was not sophisticated enough to make or break the case.

In 2002, a re-examination of the case found that DNA on the victim's sock pointed to Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist who confessed that he alone attacked the jogger.

Then-District Attorney Robert Morgenthau stopped short of declaring the five innocent but withdrew all charges and did not seek a retrial. The statute of limitations for charging Reyes had run out; he is serving a life sentence for other crimes.

The case that stood as symbol of urban lawlessness became instead an example of a colossal breakdown in the legal system.

Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that the proposed settlement signifies "a monumental victory" for the men and their families.

"It is also a victory for those in the community that stood with them from day one and believed in their innocence in this case," Sharpton said. "As supporters, we were viciously attacked for standing with them, but we were on the right side of history."

Jonathan C. Moore, a lawyer for the five men, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department.

Andrew G. Celli, a lawyer who took an interest in the case and submitted a brief in the litigation, welcomed news of a settlement.

"A settlement this large, this dynamic, will have an impact," he said. "It will cause police and prosecutors to think a bit more carefully about the ramifications of a particular investigation."

The AP does not usually identify victims of sexual assault, but Meili went public as a motivational speaker and wrote a book.

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