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City official approves deal to end 'Central Park Jogger' lawsuit

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's chief fiscal officer on Thursday signed off on a settlement that would end the decade-long civil rights lawsuit brought by five men wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989.

Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement the settlement "closes a very difficult chapter in our city’s history." His approval is a necessary step in finalizing the agreement, which still requires a federal judge to sign off.

The size of the settlement has not been publicly disclosed but a person familiar with the matter previously told Reuters it is approximately $40 million. The figure would appear to make it the largest wrongful conviction settlement in New York history.

The "Central Park Jogger" case drew national headlines as a sign that violent crime and racial tensions in New York City had reached critical levels.

The five men convicted in the case - Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam - were all black or Hispanic teenagers at the time while the victim, Trisha Meili, was a white 28-year-old investment banker.

Meili, who later wrote a book about her experience, was beaten nearly to death and has no memory of the attack itself.

The teenagers admitted to the crime after lengthy police interrogations but soon recanted, claiming coercion and exhaustion led to false confessions.

In 2002, their convictions were vacated after another man, serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime and was linked to the attack through DNA testing.

By then, the men had been released from prison after serving a total of 40 years. They sued the city more than 10 years ago, seeking $250 million in damages.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration had fiercely defended against the lawsuit but his successor, Bill de Blasio, vowed to resolve the litigation after taking office in January, calling it an injustice.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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