A sixth man wrongfully imprisoned for the rape and robbery of a New York jogger in Central Park in 1989 has been exonerated.
Kevin Lopez, now 48, was 15 years old when he accepted a robbery plea deal in order to avoid a more serious rape charge. He was imprisoned for nearly four years. On July 25, about 20 years after his co-defendants’ convictions were overturned, a New York judge overturned his conviction.
“We talk about the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg said.
The 14-year-old Black and 16-year-old Hispanic teenagers were coerced into blaming each other for the rape and robbery of 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili. Lopez was indicted for Meili’s rape and robbery, as well as the robbery of a male jogger, according to reports.
According to reports, Lopez was held in a cell for about 20 hours before being interrogated. His parents were present, but they could not communicate in English. According to reports, there were no translators. Lopez’s statement, which he and his father signed, was written by a detective and placed him on the scene.
Despite this, Lopez denied any involvement in Meili’s assault, but the confessions of the other teenagers linked him to the crime. There was no physical evidence linking him to the male jogger robbery. Investigators discovered Meili’s hair on Lopez’s clothing, but authorities later discovered that the results were unreliable.
Matias Reyes, a man serving time for murder and rape, confessed to being Meili’s sole attacker ten years after Lopez’s conviction. DNA evidence backs up his claims. The case shook the country and heightened racial tensions in New York. On the night of the crime, about ten teenagers were arrested. The group served as poster children for juvenile delinquency.
“I believe what happened to you was an American tragedy,” said Lopez’s attorney, Eric S. Renfroe, addressing his client directly during the proceeding. “It is truly painful to see how this system failed you.”
In 2014, New York City paid the five other teenagers a $41 million settlement. Lopez’s wrongful conviction received less attention than the others. He didn’t appear in Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix drama “When They See Us” or the 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five.”
Terri S. Rosenblatt, an attorney who leads Bragg’s conviction review unit, which worked on Lopez’s case, said his exoneration exemplifies a common injustice.
“We talk about wrongful trial convictions a lot, but there can be guilty pleas that are wrongful too,” Rosenblatt said.
Renfroe stated that his client felt a variety of emotions following the July 25 hearing. He had to leave the courtroom.
“I’m hoping that (Lopez) feels vindicated today at the very least,” he said. “I believe a lot of horrible things were said about him that I know were not true at the time they were said.”