Central Park jogger case: Steven Lopez exonerated

A 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.

Lopez 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.

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.

"Many largely forgot that there were six who were falsely accused of rape in the Central Park jogger case," Bragg said. "Today, Mr. Lopez joined the other who had their convictions vacated."

Lopez, now 48, served about three years in prison before being released in the early 1990s.

"I'm hoping that at the end of the day that he feels vindicated," Eric Shapiro Renfroe, Lopez's attorney, told reporters. "There were a lot of awful things that were said about of him that I know were not true at the time they were said, and are not true today."

A New York City police vehicle parked near the area where a woman, who came to be known as the Central Park jogger, was raped, beaten and left for dead two nights earlier. (AP Photo/Mario Suriani, File)

The brutal assault on Meili, a 28-year-old white investment banker who was in a coma for 12 days after the attack, was considered emblematic of New York City's lawlessness in an era when the city recorded 2,000 murders a year.

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.

After a lengthy review, prosecutors concluded the teenagers' confessions, made after hours of interrogations by NYPD detectives, were deeply flawed.

"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."

The Central Park Five, now sometimes known as the "Exonerated Five," received a $40 million settlement from the city. Their case inspired books, movies and television shows, including the award-winning Netflix drama series "When They See Us."

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.

The New York Times first reported his expected exoneration.

With The Associated Press. The AP and FOX 5 NY do not usually identify victims of sexual assault but Meili went public in 2003 and published a book titled "I Am the Central Park Jogger."