MANHATTAN (CN) — Frustrated by deadline lapses, a federal magistrate urged New York City to finally launch an online database on the Central Park Five case before his retirement this fall.
One of the most controversial cases in the city’s history, the story of five black and Latino men falsely convicted of rape as teenagers will soon have an official website for the public to learn all about the troubled prosecution.
That is, if men’s lawyers and the city can reach an agreement about what information is relevant and what should be kept confidential.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis, who will step down from the bench on Nov. 15, warned the parties on Monday that the clock is ticking.
“Before I leave, we’re going to decide what is going to be de-designated,” he said.
First sworn in on Nov. 16, 1993, Ellis is nearing the end of his third term as a federal magistrate, and he is nearing retirement age following a 24-year career.
One of the most significant cases that he has presided over was civil rights lawsuit of Antron McRay, Raymond Santana Jr., Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam.
Falsely convicted of the April 1989 rape of Central Park jogger Trisha Meili, the men spent between six and 13 years in prison before Meili’s true attacker stepped forward, vindicating them.
Matias Reyes was already serving a life sentence on unrelated charges when he made a jailhouse confession to Meili’s rape. McRay, Santana, Wise, Richardson and Salaam were soon exonerated after DNA testing corroborated his confession, and they reached a $41 million settlement with the city in 2014.
Another part of the settlement includes the creation of a website about the case, but squabbling over what materials should remain confidential has been a stumbling block.
The city’s lawyer Genevieve Nelson told the court Thursday that her team has only “one thing in mind, whether it is relevant to the original investigation and prosecution.”
If the parties cannot agree on that matter, Ellis said he will have to decide himself.
“I’m here to resolve disputes,” he said. “Anything the parties want to work out feel free to talk about it.”
But he made clear that his patience is wearing thin about the pace of the discussions.
“Deadlines have slipped,” he noted.
Though nearly 30 years have passed since the crime, the Central Park Five case continues to be a contentious issue in the United States today.
For many now, their prosecution — and the media-fueled panic about “wilding” crime sprees committed by so-called black and Latino “wolf packs” — represents a racially motivated rush to judgment.
Well before he ran for president, Donald Trump used his real estate wealth to fan the tabloid flames with full-page ads in the New York Daily News.
“BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY,” one 1989 ad by Trump said. “BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
Trump’s recent defense of a white-supremacist rally and ostensible concern for the fate of Confederate monuments has evoked parallels to this history.