NEW YORK (CNN) — A dark chapter in recent New York City history stands to close with a proposal for the city to pay a $40 million civil rights settlement to five black and Hispanic men wrongfully convicted in the horrific beating and rape of a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989, a source with knowledge of the settlement told CNN on Friday.
The sensational case polarized the city along racial lines and became emblematic of a state of rampant crime. Five minority teenagers, who became known as the Central Park Five, were coerced amid public uproar into making incriminating statements and convicted in 1990.
The proposed agreement between the city law department and the five men — who served between seven and 13 years in prison — averages about $1 million per year of incarceration, according to the source.
One of the men, Kharey Wise, served 13 years in prison. Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana Jr. each served about seven years.
The proposed settlement still has to be approved by the city comptroller and then submitted for approval to Judge Deborah Batts of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the men filed their civil rights lawsuit. The source said a formal announcement on the settlement would be made next week. The agreement was first reported in The New York Times.
In 2012, filmmaker Ken Burns, along with daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon, produced an award-winning documentary about the infamous case.
“We are thrilled to hear about the potential settlement with the Central Park Five,” the three said in statement Friday. “It will finally give some closure and bring a measure of justice in this tragic case. The five men were just teenagers when they were wrongly convicted. … Their story has come to symbolize the immense challenges we continue to confront when it comes to race in this country, but it is also the story of five men maintaining their dignity in the face of injustice and now, of the collective power to acknowledge and correct our mistakes.”
Sarah Burns told CNN that it was time for the story of the Central Park Five “to be over.”
“Having gotten to know them well … the closure and finishing this meant a lot,” she said. “I never heard them talk about money, but I heard them talk about closure and being able to move on, and feeling some sense that a settlement would be an acknowledgment to their exoneration, and that meant a lot to them even though it’s not like they’re ever gonna get an apology for the people responsible. But this is the closest they’ll get, and that does mean a lot.”
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old Wall Street investment banker jogging through Central Park was raped, viciously beaten and left for dead. She would have no memory of the attack.
That same night, a group of black and Latino boys had been in the park, throwing rocks at cars and assaulting people in a practice the media and law enforcement at the time called “wilding.”
An investigation led to the arrest of five teens who were accused of rampaging through the park in a “wolf pack” and preying on innocent victims. They were charged and convicted.
“If they had their way,” Salaam told CNN in 2013, “we would have been hanging from one of those lovely trees here in Central Park.”
The victim, Trisha Meili, kept her identity hidden for 14 years until the publication of her book, “I Am the Central Park Jogger.”
“I guess there are lots of theories out there but I just don’t know and it’s almost too confusing for me to understand,” she told CNN in 2003, referring to the false confessions given by the five men. “I’ve had to come to peace with it by saying: ‘You know what? I’m just not going to know.'”
Three of the convicted young men had finished their prison terms, one was on parole and the fifth was in jail on an unrelated offense when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer in 2001 confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone.
“After being exonerated, it’s like somebody running free through the…grass and throwing their hands up and yelling, ‘ah!’ you know…the feeling is overjoy and happiness,” Salaam told CNN in 2012.
DNA analysis later determined that Reyes did rape the jogger and that hair evidence used in the boys’ trials did not match.
Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney at the time, ordered a new investigation and, on his recommendation, a judge vacated the convictions.
A civil rights lawsuit filed by the five men accused police and prosecutors of false arrest, malicious prosecution and a racially motivated conspiracy. The administration of former mayor Michael Bloomberg fought the case, but his successor, Bill de Blasio, pledged to settle the suit before taking office.