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N.Y. Rape Case Delayed 6 Weeks

October 22, 2002|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Amid protests of conspiracy and cover-up, a judge Monday gave prosecutors six more weeks to determine whether the convictions of five men accused of raping and beating a Central Park jogger should be overturned.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada said he was "not unconcerned" about recent DNA tests suggesting that a convicted rapist -- and not the five black youths arrested in the notorious 1989 crime -- was guilty of the attack on the 28-year-old white woman.

But Tejada said he would give Manhattan Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau until Dec. 5 to conduct an exhaustive review of the case because "fairness and justice demand that both sides be granted enough time." At that time, Tejada indicated, he would be prepared to rule on a motion by defense attorneys to set aside the original convictions.

The judge's decision after the brief hearing, while not unexpected, sparked angry comments by family members and lawyers of the five Central Park defendants, who have served their time and are now adults.

"The only crime they committed was being black and Latino in Central Park," said attorney Roger Wareham, "and apparently there's two standards for justice in New York City. If you're white in Central Park, you're engaged in legal activity, but if you're black, Latino and young, you must be doing something illegal."

Others accused Morgenthau's office of trying to cover up new developments in the case, which sparked racial tensions in New York 13 years ago and helped pave the way for major anti-crime programs. They said the evidence exonerating the five defendants is clear, and there should not be more delays in setting aside the convictions.

"How much more of this can we take?" said Angela Cuffee, sister of Kevin Richardson, who was convicted of the crime along with Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise. "It's like they're trying this case all over again. Like they're covering up something."

New York was rocked by the attack on the jogger, who was raped, savagely beaten and left for dead on April 19, 1989. When she was discovered at the bottom of a muddy ravine, the woman had lost 80% of her blood. Although she was in a coma for 12 days, the former Salomon Brothers investment banker recovered. She cannot remember details of the attack.

Police rounded up several suspects that night, during which a group of about 30 young men had been roaming through the northern section of the park, beating up and harassing at least eight other people. Their marauding attacks introduced the term "wilding" into the national vocabulary. Investigators eventually charged five boys, none older than 16, with the attack on the jogger. All were convicted the following year.

The case resurfaced this year when Matias Reyes, 31, a convicted serial rapist, told officials that he alone had raped the jogger. Reyes, who is serving 33 years to life for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman, cannot be prosecuted for the jogger attack because the statute of limitations has expired.

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