A forgotten co-defendant of the so-called "Central Park Five," whose convictions in a notorious 1989 rape of a jogger were thrown out more than a decade later, had his conviction on a related charge overturned Monday.
Steven Lopez was exonerated in response to requests by both Lopez’s attorney and prosecutors. He was arrested along with five other Black and Latino teenagers in the rape and assault on Trisha Meili but reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to the lesser charge of robbing a male jogger.
Meili went public in 2003 and published a book titled “I Am the Central Park Jogger.” The brutal assault put the 28-year-old white investment banker in a coma for 12 days. It was considered emblematic of New York City's lawlessness in an era when the city recorded 2,000 murders a year.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told a judge Monday that review of the case found that Lopez had pleaded guilty involuntarily “in the face of false statements” and under “immense external pressure.” Lopez was in court but didn’t speak.
Lopez, now 48, served about three years in prison before being released in the early 1990s. He told a judge "thank you" as he was exonerated Monday.
Five teenagers were convicted in the attack on Meili and served six to 13 years in prison. Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after evidence linked a convicted serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, to the attack.
Prosecutors who reviewed the case had concluded the teenagers' confessions, made after hours of interrogations, were deeply flawed.
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“A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies,” they wrote in court papers at the time. “The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime.”
Lopez has not received a settlement, and his case has been nearly forgotten in the years since he pleaded guilty to robbery in 1991 to avoid the more serious rape charge. His expected exoneration was first reported in The New York Times.
“We talk about the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five, but there were six people on that indictment,” Bragg told the Times ahead of Monday's exoneration. “And the other five who were charged, their convictions were vacated. And it’s now time to have Mr. Lopez’s charge vacated.”