Ruling leaves lone culprit in jogger rape case

Saturday, December 21, 2002

NEW YORK -- Imprisoned rapist Matias Reyes described it as "that feeling."

It came over him one night in 1989 after spotting a woman running in Central Park. He said he followed her, raped her, then kept silent for years as five youths were convicted in the attack and served prison sentences.

More than 13 years later -- with a judge throwing out the convictions Thursday based on Reyes' recent confession -- he has emerged as the only remaining culprit in the rewritten version of one of the city's most notorious crimes.

Reyes, 31, already serving life for other convictions, cannot be prosecuted in the jogger case because the statute of limitations has expired. His representatives could not be reached for comment; his former attorney has an unlisted number.

The judge in the original trials of the five convicted said the DNA evidence didn't justify dismissing all charges against them.

Even with the link to Reyes, "there's nothing there, really, that the juries didn't know," state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Galligan said in Friday's edition of Newsday, his first public comments about the decision to clear the suspects.

The court documents, including Reyes' statements, however, paint a disturbing portrait of the man now believed responsible for the attack.

Ring leaves evidence

Reyes has told authorities he was the product of a broken and abusive home. By his late teens, he was a vagrant who slept in a van parked on the street and wore a ring with the figure of a crucified Christ. He told investigators he supported himself by working part-time at a grocery store in Harlem and robbing people in the park.

What turned the petty thief into a vicious predator is unclear. But in 1989, he said, he began a rampage of rapes against women in Manhattan's Upper East Side. He told police "that feeling" would come over him, a recurring urge that led him to murder one woman and sexually attack seven others over an 11-month period.

On April 19, 1989, dozens of teenagers from Harlem descended on the park to mug runners and bicyclists -- a crime spree dubbed "wilding." The jogger, a 28-year-old investment banker, was found comatose in a pool of blood. She would recover, but had no memory of her ordeal.

About three months after the attack, Reyes was arrested and eventually convicted of three other rapes and one murder. He wasn't implicated in the Central Park jogger case until early this year, when he summoned investigators and stunned them by claiming he was the victim's sole assailant.

Reyes described leaving the grocery store that night with an urge to cause trouble in the park. Once there, he spotted a fit, blond woman wearing running tights and a Walkman.

Reyes said he trotted up behind the woman and hit her in the back of the head with a tree branch. He said he dragged her into a wooded area, where he raped her.

He said he intended to take her keys and burglarize her apartment. When she refused to tell him where her apartment was, he said, he used a rock to beat her until she was bloodied and unconscious.

A reinvestigation by prosecutors found Reyes' confession was "reliable and accurate" -- a conclusion backed by DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

His story also was supported by one of the jogger's wounds, caused by a punch from the hand on which he wore his ring.

"The victim had an oddly shaped wound on her left cheek, resembling a cross," a prosecution report said.

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