Sixth, little known teen in 1989 Central Park jogger case is exonerated

Steven Lopez is the rarely mentioned and seemingly forgotten sixth co-defendant who was arrested and charged at age 15, along with the Central Park Five.

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A sixth man linked to the 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park, along with five other teenagers once dubbed the Central Park Five, has been cleared of a robbery charge related to the attack.

Steven Lopez is the rarely mentioned and seemingly forgotten sixth co-defendant who was arrested and charged at age 15, along with the Central Park Five, in the rape and assault on Trisha Meili, New York Times reports.

Steven Lopez arrives on July 25, 2022 for court proceedings related to the Central Park jogger case at New York State Supreme in New York City. Lopez’s guilty plea was vacated and indictment dismissed after a petition by District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Lopez’s lawyer, Eric Renfroe. Lopez, now 48-years-old, was 15 at the time of the attack. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Lopez reached a deal with prosecutors after his arrest and pled guilty to the lesser charge of robbing a male jogger in the park on the same night as the rape. According to The New York Times, his conviction was thrown out by a Manhattan courthouse on Monday.

As theGrio previously reported, police linked Meili’s rape to Raymond Santana, Antron McCray,  Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Clarence Thomas and Steve Lopez  — all Black and Latino youth, aged 14-16 at the time of the attack.

The group was arrested after Meili, a white female jogger, was attacked on the night of April 19, 1989. Prosecutors used coerced confessions — the teens blamed each other — to convict them of the crime and each spent between six and 13 years in prison as juveniles.

They were exonerated years later when another individual, Matias Reyes, who was already incarcerated on a different charge, confessed in 2002 that he was the actual attacker. The Central Park Five — now known as The Exonerated Five — sued New York City in 2003 and won a $41 million dollar settlement in 2014.

The men have since become the subjects of films, books and television shows, including Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” which is streaming on Netflix. Lopez is not mentioned in most of the projects. 

Lopez was questioned for nearly two and a half hours by police following the rape in Central Par but he refused to say he was involved in the assault on Meili. His parents, who were not native English speakers, were present during the interrogation but no translators were provided, according to The Times. 

Some of the other teens who were also questioned under duress reportedly linked Lopez to the attacks on the male and female joggers. Forensic investigators lacked physical evidence tying him to the crime committed against the male jogger, who did not identify Lopez as one of his assailants.

Police ultimately charged all the teens with rape, but right as his trial was scheduled to begin, Lopez made a plea deal with the prosecutors. They dropped the rape charge in a plea deal and he pled guilty to first-degree robbery, according to The Times. He was sentenced to one and a half to four and a half years in state prison. Lopez has not received any settlement money.

“We talk about the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five, but there were six people on that indictment,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, The Guardian reported. “And the other five who were charged, their convictions were vacated. And it’s now time to have Mr. Lopez’s charge vacated.”

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