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Police panel slams decision to absolve men in Central Park jogger case

From Phil Hirschkorn

New York City police search Central Park in 1989 for clues to the attack.
New York City police search Central Park in 1989 for clues to the attack.

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NYPD panel report  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Court Police claim no wrongdoing external link

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A three-man panel appointed by the New York Police Department has found fault with a court decision to exonerate five men who spent years behind bars for a brutal sexual assault on a female jogger in Central Park in 1989.

The panel found reason to believe that the five men and a serial rapist who has admitted the crime both may have assaulted the woman 13 years ago.

The five men -- Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana -- were cleared of the jogger assault charges last month upon recommendation of the district attorney who had prosecuted them.

The men were all teenagers when juries convicted them of attacking the 29-year-old investment banker.

New evidence that emerged last year -- the confession by serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes that he alone attacked the jogger -- led prosecutors to agree with a defense motion that the convictions be vacated. DNA testing confirmed that Reyes, who was 18 at the time, raped the jogger. No semen matched the defendants.

The Central Park Five, as they became known by their defenders, had completed their prison sentences, ranging from seven to 11 years, by the time Reyes came forward. Police detectives maintain their belief in the men's guilt. NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly commissioned the report, prepared by former prosecutor Michael Armstrong, New York University Vice President Jules Martin, a former policeman, and Stephen Hammerman, the NYPD deputy commissioner for legal matters.

The NYPD report dismissed the notion that videotaped confessions by four of the five men had been coerced, pointing to "consistencies" in their statements.

Instead, the report cast doubt on Reyes' credibility. "DNA confirms that Reyes raped the jogger, but we have nothing but his uncorroborated word that he did so alone," the report found.

The panel put forward an alternative theory of the case -- which neither Reyes nor the five men acted alone.

Protesters march outside New York's State Supreme Court building last year, demanding a reversal of the convictions.
Protesters march outside New York's State Supreme Court building last year, demanding a reversal of the convictions.

"We adopt the view that the most likely scenario for the events of April 19, 1989, was that the defendants came upon the jogger and subjected her to some kind of attack, albeit with sexual overtones, that they inflicted upon other victims in the park that night," the report suggests.

The five men admitted being among several dozen teens on an hour-long assault and robbery spree through the park that victimized half-a-dozen others first.

"Perhaps attracted to the scene by the jogger's screams, Reyes either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants has moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death," the report suggests.

The NYPD panel also found a motive for Reyes to lie -- "evidence to suggest that he came forward in response to threats" in prison, where his paths crossed with Wise. His confession facilitated his transfer to a more preferable prison, where he is serving 33 years to life.

The panel offered several recommendations to improve the management of information and evidence and for better case review.

Police failed to link the April 19 jogger assault with a rape and murder committed in the same area two days earlier by Reyes.

"The police and the district attorneys office had a set of confessions and were satisfied that the defendants perpetrated the attack on the jogger. They had no cause to search for links to other cases," the report found.

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