Posted on July 26, 2022

Sixth Teenager Charged in Central Park Jogger Case Is Exonerated

Jonah E. Bromwich, New York Times, July 25, 2022

A forgotten co-defendant of the Central Park Five, who, like them, was charged with the rape of a jogger in a case that shook New York City and the nation, had a related conviction overturned Monday in downtown Manhattan.

The case against the Five — teenagers of color who were innocent of the 1989 sexual assault on a white woman but who were convicted on the basis of false confessions that the police elicited — continues to shape attitudes surrounding racism in the criminal justice system, the media and society. But the story of the sixth man — Steven Lopez — had previously been all but ignored.

Mr. Lopez, who was arrested when he was 15, struck a deal with prosecutors just before his trial two years later to avoid the more serious rape charge, instead pleading guilty to robbery of a male jogger.

Like his peers, he went to prison; collectively, the group served close to 45 years. Soon after the true assailant in the Central Park rape was identified in 2002, the authorities overturned the rape convictions against the five men. They have gone on to win a $41 million settlement from New York City and become the subjects of films, books and television shows.

The story of Mr. Lopez, now 48, is far less well-known.

His robbery conviction was tossed out and the indictment dismissed in State Supreme Court by the chief administrative judge, Ellen N. Biben. It was the first exoneration under the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, who vowed during his two years on the campaign trail to bolster the work of the office’s wrongful conviction unit.


Mr. Lopez was 15 when he was arrested and charged with the rape of the jogger, the 28-year-old investment banker, Trisha Meili. Mr. Lopez also faced charges linked to the robbery of a male jogger in the park that same night, April 19, 1989.

According to the review of his case conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s post-conviction justice unit, Mr. Lopez had been arrested in Central Park after a series of assaults, including that of the male jogger who was thrown to the ground and beaten.


The statement placed Mr. Lopez at the scene of the attack on the male jogger. But despite aggressive questioning, Mr. Lopez refused to say he had been involved in the assault on Ms. Meili.

While a number of the other teenagers, questioned under similar duress, said that Mr. Lopez had committed crimes against both the male and female jogger, there was no forensic evidence tying him to the attack on the male jogger, who did not identify Mr. Lopez as one of his assailants. Forensic investigators, however, identified a hair found on Mr. Lopez’s clothing as possibly belonging to the female jogger. {snip}

Ms. Meili had been badly beaten and left for dead. Details of the crime horrified New York City and inflamed racial tensions. Mr. Lopez and the other five boys were charged with rape. (Ms. Meili remained anonymous for more than a decade following the attack before identifying herself; she has objected to the settlement and believes that more than one person attacked her. {snip})

Convictions and Exonerations

The teens arrested that night, all of whom were Black or Hispanic, were treated as symptoms of a city descending into crime-ridden chaos. They were condemned by the police, prosecutors, the media and a famous real estate developer, Donald J. Trump, who placed full-page ads in the city’s newspapers calling for the death penalty. They were often called “beasts” or a “wolf pack,” as if they were not human.


A month later, as his trial was scheduled to begin, prosecutors offered Mr. Lopez a plea bargain in which he would plead guilty to first-degree robbery in exchange for having the rape charge dropped. Mr. Lopez agreed and was sentenced to one and a half to four and a half years in state prison.

In February 2002, DNA evidence indicated that an uncharged suspect, Matias Reyes, had attacked the jogger. Mr. Reyes, who was serving time for a separate rape and murder, confessed to the crime.

That year, the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, moved to have the rape convictions thrown out over the objections of police leadership. {snip}