A sixth man who was a co-defendant of the Central Park Five has been exonerated of charges related to the 1989 rape of a white woman jogger. The then-teenagers were convicted based on false confessions, and five of them have since been cleared of the accusation against them.
Steven Lopez was 15 years old when he was named in the indictment among a number of Black and Latino teens. He pleaded guilty to robbing a male jogger the same night that investment banker Trisha Meili was brutally assaulted in New York’s Central Park. Charges against him related to her attack were then dropped but he was sentenced to 1 1/2 and 4-1/2 years in a state prison for the robbery. However, on Monday (July 25) a judge ruled that the plea agreement entered when Lopez was 17 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, the man’s defense attorney who was not even 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."
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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told the court that there was no physical evidence linking Lopez to the attacks on either joggers, and that the witness statements naming him had been recanted.
He has not been featured in much of the media coverage of the Central Park Five who have also been colloquially known as the “Exonerated Five.”
“We talk about the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five, but there were six people on that indictment,” Bragg told reporters prior to the hearing.
In the aftermath of the attack, New York City was left in shock, many in the political mainstream, including then-mayor Ed Koch vowing retribution against those responsible and pressuring law enforcement to turn up suspects. Donald Trump, at the time a wealthy real estate mogul, even took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times calling for the suspects to be executed.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam were convicted as teenagers and each spent years incarcerated until someone who had been imprisoned with Santana confessed that he was the person who had attacked Meili, which was proven through DNA evidence. Their story was later retold in a 2019 fictionalized account written and directed by Ava Duvernay for Netflix called When They See Us, as well as a 2012 documentary film by Ken Burns.
RELATED: Ava DuVernay, Netflix Receive Verdict In ‘When They See Us’ Defamation Lawsuit
Now adults in their 40s, they settled a lawsuit with the City of New York for $41 million in 2014. Lopez was not a part of the settlement.
After New York State Supreme Court Judge Ellen Biben agreed to a motion by Manhattan's chief prosecutor and a lawyer representing Lopez to vacate the plea, she said, “Mr. Lopez, we wish you peace and healing.” To which Lopez replied in his only remarks to the court, “Thank you.”
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