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City of New York pushed to settle Central Park jogger case

A decades-old case in which a woman was beaten and raped in Central Park is making headlines again. Lawmakers are asking New York City to settle with five men whose convictions were thrown out and who sued the city.

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"There was never any forensic evidence that tied them to this case," he said. "In 1989, everybody might not have been forensic savvy, but now, after 'Law and Order,' everybody knows if there's no DNA, they didn't do it."

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But an overturned conviction does not automatically mean there was any wrongdoing by prosecutors or police. Legal experts say the case is taking a long time in part because of the money and reputations at stake. If it were to go to trial, lawyers would have to prove police and prosecutors acted improperly. A settlement could be reached without the city having to admit wrongdoing, but so far the city hasn't offered.

And no trial date has been set.

"This is an embarrassing chapter in the city's history, which is why I think why the city would be anxious to settle it," said Richard Klein, a Touro Law School professor who recently hosted a panel on the documentary. "Even if you have a different mayor and a different DA, there are so many people who look so bad."

Celeste Koeleveld, an attorney for New York, said the city did nothing wrong in prosecuting the case.

"Nothing unearthed since the trials, including Matias Reyes' connection to the attack on the jogger, changes that fact," Koeleveld said. "Indeed, it was well known at the time of the trials that an unidentified male's DNA was present."

The two-hour documentary, "The Central Park Five," makes the case that the men were wrongly convicted. Burns, acclaimed for his documentaries on Civil War, baseball and Prohibition, put the project together with his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband.

Sarah Burns worked as a summer paralegal in the office of one of the lawyers handling the lawsuit and wrote a 2011 book on the case, "The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding." The documentary was released last fall in some theaters.

"It was my daughter's passion and my daughter's outrage for this," Ken Burns said. "I was in New York at the time that this crime took place and was shocked as everyone else. ... And then I was aware when they were exonerated and I was angry that there was so little coverage. But it was Sarah who really ran with this."

The film uses extensive interviews with the men and their families, and lawyers for the city went to court to demand outtakes for use in the civil case. A federal judge earlier this year refused the request. Burns said the city was just stalling, "hoping that the five will run out of patience."

The city Law Department said the move didn't hold up anything.

City Comptroller John Liu, who is running for mayor, and other state and city politicians, including members of the City Council, have all spoken out in the past six months, demanding City Hall settle.

"We are approaching 10 years," U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis, who is presiding over the case, said recently. "Somebody ought to get their day in court."

The defendants' lives since they got out of prison have not been easy. Wise was recently re-arrested. McCray moved away. Santana sold drugs and was sent back to prison, but now, along with Richardson and Salaam, has become the public face of the case, speaking out against wrongful convictions and racial profiling.

"We are over being angry. Now it's about helping others, raising our own families right," said Santana, now 38.

Associated Press Writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.

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