American rush to judgment

American rush to judgment

by digby

This should be a cautionary tale --- but it probably won't be:
The five men whose convictions in the brutal 1989 beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park were later overturned have agreed to a settlement of about $40 million from New York City to resolve a bitterly fought civil rights lawsuit over their arrests and imprisonment in the sensational crime.

The agreement, reached between the city’s Law Department and the five plaintiffs, would bring to an end an extraordinary legal battle over a crime that came to symbolize a sense of lawlessness in New York, amid reports of “wilding” youths and a marauding “wolf pack” that set its sights on a 28-year-old investment banker who ran in the park many evenings after work.

The confidential deal, disclosed by a person who is not a party in the lawsuit but was told about the proposed settlement, must still be approved by the city comptroller and then by a federal judge.

The initial story of the crime, as told by the police and prosecutors, was that a band of young people, part of a larger gang that rampaged through Central Park, had mercilessly beaten and sexually assaulted the jogger. The story quickly exploded into the public psyche, fanned by politicians and sensational news reports that served to inflame racial tensions.

The five black and Hispanic men, ages 14 to 16 at the time of their arrests, claimed that incriminating statements they had given had been coerced by the authorities. The statements were ruled admissible, and the men were convicted in two separate trials in 1990.

In December 2002, an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, found DNA and other evidence that the woman had been raped and beaten not by the five teenagers but by another man, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer who had confessed to acting alone in the attack. Concluding that the new evidence could have changed the original verdict, Mr. Morgenthau’s office joined a defense motion asking that the convictions be vacated.

The reason I say it won't make a difference is because the media, the public and the legal system all get very stimulated when a story like this happens and they lose all discretion. It's happened many times before.

This case is actually one of the few that has a satisfying result but a lot of the credit has to go to the DA's office which actually endorsed the fact that they had wrongfully convicted these men. That is an anomoly.

If this is an issue that moves you --- well, if injustice is an issue that moves you --- do yourself a favor and spend some time with this Pro-Publica investigation about wrongful convictions in this country and the outrageously immoral unwillingness of police and District Attorneys to admit when they've made a mistake --- and go about obstructing any investigations into the innocence of people they've sent to prison. If any of us did what they routinely do we would be indicted for obstruction of justice. They are almost never held to account either for the original mistake/conscious railroading or the lengths to which they went to prevent the truth from ever coming out. Many of these alleged public servants are far too willing to let innocent people rot in jail (while guilty ones go free) rather than admit they were wrong. It's enough to make you sick to your stomach.