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Yusef Salaam, exonerated member of Central Park Five, declares victory in New York City Council race

New York Primary results: Looks like a big win for Yusef Salaam in Harlem
New York Primary results: Looks like a big win for Yusef Salaam in Harlem 04:07

Yusef Salaam, one of the five teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of raping a woman in Central Park and later exonerated, is leading in a race for New York City Council after Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Salaam declared victory on Tuesday night, although the official results may take several days to be finalized due to the city's ranked choice voting system.

Unofficial results from the city's Board of Elections show Salaam as the first choice of 50.1% of voters, with 99% of scanners reporting as of Wednesday morning. Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, who previously held the seat but had been term-limited out and had the support of Mayor Eric Adams, had 25%, while Assemblyman Al Taylor had 14.4%. Incumbent Kristin Richardson Jordan withdrew from the race.

"This campaign has been about those who have been counted out," he said Tuesday night, according to CBS New York. "This campaign has been about those who have been forgotten. This campaign has been about our Harlem community that has been pushed into the margins of life."

If he prevails in the primary and ultimately the general election, Salaam will be representing the 9th District in the City Council, which includes the part of East Harlem where he grew up. 

Yusef Salaam speaks at an event on June 1, 2023, in New York City.
Yusef Salaam speaks at an event on June 1, 2023, in New York City. Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Stonyfield

In 1989, a White woman, Trisha Meili, was jogging in Central Park when she was brutally beaten and raped. Meili, then 28, was found by passersby battered and unconscious, and was so beaten that investigators couldn't immediately identify her. She remained in a coma for 12 days before waking up with brain damage and little memory of the attack.

Investigators focused on five teens — Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — who had been in the park that night, and the case set off a media frenzy. They were referred to as the "Wolf Pack," and then-businessman Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for a return to the death penalty for the teens.

The teens — then aged 14 to 16 — confessed to being there, but none of them actually confessed to committing the offense and instead blamed others. Their confessions also did not match the details of the attack, and came after lengthy interrogations by police, leading to questions that their statements had been coerced. Although there were inconsistencies in their accounts — and police did not start recording the sessions until the confessions began — prosecutors relied heavily on them in the trial. As "CBS Evening News" reported at the time, there was no blood on their clothing, there was no match for semen and the DNA tests came back negative. 

But the teens were all convicted anyway in a 1990 trial, and they all served between seven and a half to 13 and a half years in prison. 

A decade later, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist, confessed to the crime while behind bars, and DNA evidence corroborated his account. In 2002, the five defendants' convictions were vacated. They later settled a lawsuit with New York City for $41 million, or roughly $1 million for each year served. 

Salaam told "CBS Sunday Morning" in 2019 that "no amount of money could have given us our time back."

The five are now known as the "Exonerated Five," and Salaam on Tuesday night vowed to find solutions to address the failures of the criminal justice system. 

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