Again, there is evidence that our still-revered system of criminal justice is less than ideal. Five men have been exonerated of serious crime after being wrongly convicted and serving years of imprisonment. Five New York men were cleared after they were wrongly convicted of the 1989 sex offenses and brutal physical beatings of a female known as the Central Park jogger.
After being convicted in 1990 of the rape and horrific beating of the Central Park jogger, the so-called Central Park Five served prison sentences. Then, in 2002, new evidence surfaced. DNA and other evidence pointed not to the five men, but to a dangerous convicted rapist and murderer. He confessed to acting alone in the attack.
The men were all between 14 and 16 in 1989. After being exonerated, they filed a civil rights action for damages against the city and the police department. That claim was recently settled for $40 million, presumably at the direction of the new mayor of New York. The lawsuit had asserted counts of false arrest, malicious prosecution and a racially-infused conspiracy to deprive them of their civil rights.
The swift disposition of the civil rights case marks a change in policy initiated by the new mayor, Bill de Blasio. The city’s focus now favors minority rights in many respects. The mayor indicated that he would try to expedite the settlement for the Central Park Five and apparently has done so.
For criminal defendants in New York, this simply shows that the police are sometimes fallible. Nowadays, with groups like the Innocence Project and advancements in DNA technology, numerous wrongful convictions and imprisonments for homicide and sex offenses have been revealed. As that truth settles in, the hope is that prosecutors will inject more objectivity and independent analysis into their cases. The hope is also that jurors will be even more steadfast in demanding strict proof of guilt that goes beyond a reasonable doubt.
Source: The New York Times, "5 Exonerated in Central Park Jogger Case Agree to Settle Suit for $40 Million", Benjamin Weiser, June 19, 2014