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New York Judge Overturns Central Park Rape, Assault Convictions - 2002-12-19

A judge in New York city has thrown out the convictions of five men who had been found guilty of rape and assault in one of the most controversial and racially charged cases in New York history.

The judge dismissed the convictions 13 years after five black and Hispanic teenagers were charged in the nearly fatal beating and rape of a white woman known as the "Central Park jogger."

The defendants had confessed to a night of random attacks in Central Park, which created a new term, called "wilding," in the racially divisive case, which gripped the city.

But after the defendants had spent years in jail, another imprisoned murderer and rapist admitted to the crime and a sample of his DNA proved that he alone had raped the jogger.

For years, the families of the defendants and some minority organizations have maintained the innocence of the five men.

Sharonne Salaam, the mother of one defendant, says the decision shows that changes need to be made in the judicial system. "There are so many people who are incarcerated today who are innocent," she said. "And we have to start improving the system so that only the guilty suffer. We have to improve the system so that innocent people are not made victims by a justice system going awry."

In recent years, a growing number of convictions throughout the United States have been overturned based on new, scientific evidence.

Attorneys for the defendants in the Central Park jogger case are expected to seek financial compensation in civil lawsuits against the city and are calling for an inquiry into the way the crime was investigated.

The five teenagers, who are now between 28 and 30-years-old, were also convicted on other charges related to the random attacks in Central Park.

The Central Park jogger, who has remained anonymous, spent 12 days in a coma after the attack. At 41-years-old, she plans to release a book next year, and tell her story publicly for the first time.