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Acting Justice Charles J. Tejada’s ruling Thursday overturning the convictions of the five men convicted in 1990 of raping the Central Park jogger was couched in the neutral language of “newly discovered evidence.” But underneath that broad legal conclusion, Justice Tejada embraced the legal theory set forward by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, in acceding to the five men’s motion to have the verdict set aside. In his decision, Tejada quoted a conclusion offered by Nancy Ryan, the chief of the trial division in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, in support of the office’s recommendation that the convictions be set aside. Citing serial rapist’s Matias Reyes January confession, which was backed by DNA evidence linking him and only him to the attack on the jogger, Ryan wrote, “Certainly no one would have thought that as the defendants and their group were making their way through the park earlier, a serial rapist was also at large. The newly discovered evidence provides incontrovertible proof that he was.” The evidence amassed in Ryan’s 55-page affirmation in support of the theory that Reyes acted alone, gives a big boost to claims that the five jogger defendants may file in the New York Court of Claims under the state’s 1984 wrongful conviction act, lawyers who have both prosecuted and defended similar types of cases said Thursday. Nonetheless, experts in that area of law said the state attorney general’s office vigorously defends wrongful conviction cases, and the statute and case law under it offers strong defenses even in cases where there is significant evidence of a wrongful conviction. Lawyers for several of the defendants made it plain Thursday that civil damage action will soon be filed. Myron Beldock, who represented Yusef Salaam, said at a press conference after Tejada released his decision, “Now is the time for accounting and reparations,” though he asked for the responsible government entities to step forward and provide compensation voluntarily without the necessity of a lawsuit. Michael W. Warren, who represents Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Raymond Santana, likewise strongly suggested that a civil suit lies in the wings, asserting that Justice Tejada’s ruling “is the first stage. Make no mistake about it.” The fifth jogger defendant, Korey Wise, is represented by Eric Seiff of New York’s Seiff Kretz & Abercrombie. The five defendants spent from 5 1/2 to 13 years in prison for the attack on the jogger and other crimes committed in Central Park the same night. Santana, who is currently in prison for another crime, expects to win release before the end of the year because his Central Park convictions served as a “predicate” for an enhanced sentence, which will now be reduced. Experts said the wrongful conviction statute may offer the Central Park defendants their best hope for a remedy because it does not require a showing of fault. The statute, which was drafted by the Law Revision Commission, offers compensation to anyone whose conviction is overturned who can demonstrate actual innocence. But, they said, the statute also contains substantial hurdles to recovery. It employs a standard of proof — “clear and convincing evidence” — which is more rigorous than the more customary preponderance of the evidence test. The statute also provides the state with a defense where a defendant “contributed” to his conviction. However, Beldock, of New York’s Beldock Levine & Hoffman, suggested that at the least his client, Salaam, is considering filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. The failure of the police to give the defense information that another serious rape had been committed near where the jogger was raped only two days earlier, is “very disturbing,” he said. He added that the failure of the police and prosecution to reopen their investigation after Reyes confessed to a series of rapes while the jogger case was still pending suggests that they did not want to explore whether the defendants had been improperly questioned, Beldock asserted. BLUEPRINT PROVIDED In a wrongful conviction case, Ryan’s affirmation provides “a blueprint for proving [the five jogger defendants] were innocent by clear and convincing evidence,” said Richard D. Emery, who won a $2.1 million verdict under the 1984 statute. But given the fact that there was substantial evidence the defendants had committed other crimes against other people in Central Park that night, he said, they may have difficulty establishing damages. Their damages would be diminished to the extent the state can show they would have been imprisoned in any event for lengthy periods for the other crimes, said Emery, of Emery Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady. Edward W. Hayes, who has defended many police misconduct cases, said the state could mount a potent argument that the jogger defendants contributed to their convictions because they presented “a classic example” of defendants “naturally becoming the focus of an investigation by engaging in atrocious behavior at the same location and time.” Another defense lawyer referred to case law holding that a defendant who had confessed, even falsely, may be found to have contributed to his conviction. Any argument that the confessions were coerced could be met by the findings of the trial judge and juries in 1990 rejecting claims that the confessions were coerced, the lawyer suggested. McCray, Salaam and Santana were tried together and convicted on Aug. 18, 1990. Wise and Richardson, who were also tried together, were convicted on Dec. 11, 1990. Peter Neufeld, a co-director of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School, asserted that there is now a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the jogger defendants’ confessions were coerced. Of the 122 convicts the Innocence Project has exonerated through the use of DNA evidence since it was founded 10 years ago, more than 25 percent involved false confession, said Neufeld. The defendants’ confessions had all the “classic marks” of being coerced, he asserted. Defendants’ confessions “to a marginal role” in a crime, as the jogger defendants did, are typically the product of police “overreaching.” A common pattern, Neufeld said, is that after many hours of questioning, the police tell a suspect that they know from other suspects that “he was there but was not the heavy. ‘If you just give us something, we’ll go easy on you,’” Neufeld said, adding that the suspect then tells the police “what they want to hear just to end the torment.” In any event, Ryan suggested there is substantial evidence that the jogger defendants attacked people other than the jogger the night of April 19, 1989. She noted that a number of individuals in the original investigation had identified one or more of the jogger defendants as having been involved in a separate attack that night. Also, she noted, only recently during her office’s 11-month investigation this year, did both Richardson and Santana “candidly” acknowledge “involvement in criminal incidents” that night. But because that information was not available to the original jury, it cannot be considered in weighing a newly discovered evidence motion, she pointed out.

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