NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of men wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989 said they continued to battle feelings of injustice on Friday, a day after the city signed a $40 million settlement to end their civil rights lawsuit.
Three of the five men found guilty as teenagers of the high-profile crime, for which they served a collective four decades in prison, spoke at a news event at City Hall in the wake of the long-fought deal.
“Today’s supposed to be a day of a victory of a celebration,” said Raymond Santana. “But I woke up this morning still trying to put the gloves on, still wanting to fight because my childhood was taken from me.”
Santana was 15 when he was convicted, along with friends Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam.
The five men, who were between 14- and 16-years-old when the high-profile crime took place, were locked up in 1990 only to have their convictions vacated in 2002 when a convicted rapist confessed to committing the crime alone.
Richardson and Salaam also attended Friday’s event. Richardson, who said he planned to take the summer off from work to spend time with his family, grew emotional during the event.
“It feels great to have a voice because in ‘89 we didn’t have one,” he said, while crying. “All we wanted to tell you all was that we didn’t do it.”
The “Central Park Jogger” case drew national attention as a symbol of peaking violence and racial tension in New York City at the time.
The boys on trial were black or Hispanic while the victim, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was white. Meili, who was raped and beaten nearly to death, has no memory of the attack.
The teenagers admitted to the crime during lengthy police interrogations but soon recanted, claiming that coercion and exhaustion led to false confessions.
Their convictions were vacated in 2002, after serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime and was linked to the attack through DNA testing.
By then, the men had been released from prison after serving a collective four decades behind bars and they sued the city, seeking $250 million in damages.
The settlement, which is considered to be the largest of its kind in New York’s history, was expected to be finalized by a federal judge as soon as next week, the men’s lawyers said.
The men said little about what they planned to do with the money. They said they would continue to work their jobs and to try to live normal lives.
They also intended to stay in the city that convicted them.
“We earned our right to be here,” said Salaam. “This is the city that we love.”
Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler