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A Manhattan judge on Thursday vacated the convictions of five men who were found guilty of attacking and raping a jogger in Central Park 13 years ago, affirming an astonishing turn of events in one of modern New York City’s most horrific crimes. In upsetting the convictions, Acting Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada embraced the conclusion of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau that the then-28-year-old jogger was the victim of a single serial rapist, rather than a gang of teen-agers on an evening rampage through the park. Tejada, whose ruling had been scheduled for Feb. 6 but was moved up on short notice, also agreed with Morgenthau that new evidence compelled the dismissal of convictions resulting from the teen-agers’ alleged attacks on other people in the park on April 19, 1989. The district attorney’s office has said that it felt “constrained to consent” to motions to dismiss those convictions, for first-degree robbery, because the teens could not be identified by any other victims and were convicted on a theory that they had committed a rash of crimes. The only evidence against the teens was their confessions, which, according to the district attorney’s office, had “serious weaknesses” that proved fatal when compared with new DNA evidence and a confession by Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist. “Everyone have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year,” Tejada said after he dismissed the convictions at a brief court hearing Thursday morning, his words drowned out by clapping and cheers from onlookers. As Morgenthau’s office had requested, Tejada threw out the indictments against the men, meaning there will be no new trial. Outside Supreme Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street, attorneys for the defendants and the defendants’ relatives were rushed by a mob of news reporters and several people protesting against the convictions. Sharonne Salaam, whose son Yusef served 6 1/2 years in prison for the attack, said her son was “elated” when told of Tejada’s ruling. None of the defendants were in court Thursday. Salaam’s attorney, Myron Beldock of New York’s Beldock Levine & Hoffman, made it clear that civil suits were forthcoming in the case, saying, “Now it’s time for accountability and reparations.” He added that he hoped it would not take 10 years or a drawn-out courtroom fight for the defendants to receive compensation [ see accompanying story]. Tejada’s ruling relied entirely on the findings of Morgenthau’s office, which were revealed two weeks ago in court papers prepared by Assistant District Attorney Nancy E. Ryan. In the papers, the office said it had been persuaded by Reyes’ confession and DNA evidence taken from the scene that implicated Reyes as the sole attacker by odds of 6 billion to one. In a statement Thursday, Morgenthau said his conclusion was made after an “extensive, complex and painstaking investigation” and fulfilled his “obligation to uncover the facts, to apply the law without fear or favor, and to see that justice is done.” But to a group that represents New York City police officers, Morgenthau’s findings and Tejada’s swift ruling were anything but just. The Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union for police detectives, unsuccessfully sought to prevent Tejada from issuing his ruling Thursday, claiming that the district attorney’s investigation had ignored concerns of detectives familiar with the jogger attack and had relied on questionable information, such as Reyes’ confession. Attorneys for the five defendants claim that police officers and prosecutors coerced the confessions from the then-teens, allegations that have been denied. Morgenthau’s court filing did not explicitly address the controversy, but it did state clearly that the original prosecution theory seemed valid at the time and was only called into question when Reyes confessed earlier this year. Tejada agreed, saying in his opinion that a “crime rampage” theory “cannot be said to have been unreasonable in 1990.” But Richard A. Dienst of Dienst & Serrins, an attorney for the detectives union, said the ruling came too quickly and would have benefited from further investigation. “Just give the cops a fair shake,” Dienst said. “Their reputations are being impugned by [Ryan's] affirmation.” He questioned whether the five men may have played some role in the attack and said the district attorney’s papers contained “patent inaccuracies and misstatements” that could have been clarified if detectives had been questioned further. A spokeswoman for Morgenthau declined to comment on those allegations, but the district attorney has in recent weeks dismissed criticism of the court papers prepared by Ryan. Dienst brought an Article 78 proceeding to the Appellate Division, 1st Department, early Thursday, but Justice David B. Saxe denied the request. Dienst said the judge questioned whether the union had standing to oppose the ruling. Though the five defendants, who at the time were between the ages of 14 and 16, confessed to attacking the jogger, they did not admit to raping her. They were convicted in two separate trials, and four of those convictions were confirmed by appellate courts. Each served from 5 1/2 to 13 years in jail. One defendant, Raymond Santana, remains in prison on an unrelated charge. He was the only defendant who did not appeal his original conviction. Michael W. Warren, an attorney for Santana, said outside the courthouse Thursday that he was applying for Santana’s release and hoped that his client would be freed by Monday. Salaam and the other defendants — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Kharey Wise — have already served full prison terms. Police officials made no public comment on Justice Tejada’s ruling before press time. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has assembled a team of outside attorneys to conduct a separate investigation into the jogger attack.

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