Skip to main content

Central Park Five co-accused Steven Lopez exonerated on charges related to infamous rape and assault

Stephen Lopez
Steven Lopez was exonerated in response to requests by both his attorney and prosecutors.(AP: Steven Hirsch/New York Post)

A co-defendant of the so-called Central Park Five, whose convictions in a notorious 1989 rape of a jogger in New York City were thrown out more than a decade later, has had his conviction on a related charge overturned. 

Steven Lopez was exonerated in response to requests by both his attorney and prosecutors at a court hearing in Manhattan.

Mr Lopez was 15 when he was arrested with five other teenagers over the rape and assault of Trisha Meili.

But he reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a lesser charge that he and several others mugged a male jogger on the same night.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg told a judge a review of the case found Lopez had pleaded guilty involuntarily "in the face of false statements" and under "immense external pressure".

He served more than three years behind bars before being released in the early 1990s.

Stephen Lopez wearing sunglasses and a suit with another man in a suit behind him.
Steven Lopez, now 48, did not give a statement in court and left without speaking to reporters.(AP: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

"Mr Lopez is looking for privacy at this time," his lawyer Eric Shapiro Renfroe said.

During the hearing the defence attorney told his client: "I believe what happened to you was a profound injustice and an American tragedy. 

"I'm happy to be here today with DA Bragg so we can give you your name back."

Rape was emblematic of New York's crime problem

The brutal assault on Ms Meili, a 28-year-old 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 and served six to 13 years in prison.

Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after evidence linked convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes to the attack.

Prosecutors who reviewed the case had concluded the teenagers' confessions, made after hours of interrogations, 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."

Prosecutors said the statements implicating Mr Lopez in the violence that night were also unreliable.

Other individuals who linked Mr Lopez to the attacks on the male and female joggers later recanted their allegations in their civil depositions, prosecutors wrote in court papers.

The male jogger never identified Mr Lopez as one of the assailants, the papers added.

The Central Park Five, now sometimes known as the Exonerated Five, went on to win a US$40 million (AU$58 million) settlement from the city and inspire books, movies and television shows.

Mr 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.

His expected exoneration was first reported in The New York Times.

"We talk about the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five, but there were six people on that indictment," Mr Bragg told the Times.

"And the other five who were charged, their convictions were vacated. And it's now time to have Mr Lopez's charge vacated."

Ms Meili went public in 2003 and published a book titled I Am the Central Park Jogger.