"They spent a lot of their lives in jail, in prison, wrongly," de Blasio said at a news conference at that time. "We have an obligation to turn the page. We have an obligation to do something fair for them, for the whole city to turn the page and move forward."
But the settlement remains a decision that Trisha Meili -- the jogger in that horrific attack -- says the city should not have made. And the police and prosecutors involved in the case agree.
Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday, May 24, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
"I so wish the case hadn't been settled," Meili told ABC News' "20/20" in January. "I wish that it had gone to court because there's a lot of information that's now being released that I'm seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors. ... They treated me with such dignity and respect."
A group of teens take over Central Park
Meili always wanted to work in New York, and she loved Central Park. In April 1989 she was working as a banker at Salomon Brothers in New York City.
"It was a sense of accomplishment, and I was devoted to it," she told ABC News' "20/20."
On the night of April 19, 1989, she worked until 8 p.m. and then headed to her home on the East Side. Moments after she had returned home, she was back outside, running toward Central Park. It was a routine she followed probably four to five days a week, she said.
"It was a release to be out there in nature, to see the beauty of the park ... as well as the skyscrapers and the lights of New York City, and the sense that, 'Wow, this is my city. I'm here in my park,'" she said. "I loved the freedom of the park. ... It just gave me a sense of vitality."
But at the same time that she was headed out for her run, police were scrambling to respond to calls about 30 to 40 teens who were harassing people in the park.
"People were punched in the face and pulled off their bicycles and robbed of their watches. I mean, it was kind of a crazy series of incidents that took place in the park," recalled former newspaper columnist Ken Auletta.
Meanwhile, Meili was continuing her nightly jog.
"I would run to the park, usually entering at the 84th Street entrance just by the Metropolitan Museum of Art," she recalled. "I would go to the 102nd Street cross drive that would go from the East Drive of the park over the West Drive of the park."
A little before midnight, her body was found by two men, in a ravine about 50 feet from the 102nd Street cross path.
"Trish Meili [was] not conscious, barely, barely alive," said Linda Fairstein, who was chief of the district attorney's office at the time.
Meili, who had been raped and brutally beaten, was taken to a hospital. She had no memory of what happened.
"She had blunt trauma," said surgeon Dr. Bob Kurtz, who treated Meili. "They didn’t know if she would survive. She looked like a little waif in the bed. No one knew who she was yet."
Plastic surgeon Dr. Jane Haher told ABC News' "20/20" that she's never forgotten that day.
"I have seen traumatized patients many, many times. But I have never seen somebody, like, destroyed," Haher said. "Her body was just so swollen -- unrecognizable, really."
Meili’s left eye had been crushed in. The force of the blow to her face was so strong that her eyeball had exploded into the thin plates of her orbital floor, Haher said.
"I had several skull fractures and there were deep lacerations," said Meili.
The police question five teens
While Meili was in the hospital, with doctors unsure if she would live or die, New York authorities were charging five teenagers who had been held in connection with the Central Park assaults with her attack. The teens -- Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Antron McCray -- eventually became known as the "Central Park Five."
Prosecutors had no DNA and little evidence that matched the teenagers to the crime, the attack, or the scene. But each teenager -- except for Salaam -- had made statements or open confessions about Meili’s attack, implicating themselves or each other.
"Kevin Richardson had a scratch under his eye, so the detectives asked him, 'How did you get the scratch under your eye?'" said former New York City detective Eric Reynolds. Richardson replied on the videotaped interrogation:
Richardson: I got in the way. She got kind of like scratched me a little bit.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer: Let me just ask you, you’re saying that she scratched you and you’re indicating a place on your face?
Richardson: Yeh, I think it’s on me right here.
Meili was in a coma for about a week in the hospital before she finally opened her eyes.
"You had children, schoolchildren showing up and holding vigils outside," said former reporter and professor Natalie Byfield. "Cardinal (John) O'Connor made a visit there. Frank Sinatra sent her flowers."
Kurtz, the surgeon, said Meili "woke up and looked around and saw the flowers and said, you know, ‘Holy smoke. What’s going on? Why is Frank Sinatra sending me flowers?’"
Meili said she watched some of the videotapes of the teens' statements and confessions.
"It is very, very hard watching someone describe how people beat me, how people were trying to stop my screaming by beating my face," she said.
When the first trial began in August 1990 against Salaam, Santana and McCray, Meili agreed to testify. On the witness stand, she talked about what her normal running practices had been and what she had been wearing that night.
"I remember I was very nervous," she said. "I thought, 'I know I have no memory but I wanted people to know the condition that I had been in.'"
After 10 days of deliberations, Salaam, Santana and McCray, all 16 years old at the time, were convicted of rape, assault and robbery in the attack on Meili. After a separate trial, in December 1990, Wise was found guilty of sexual abuse, first degree assault and riot. Richardson was also found guilty on all charges.
McCray, Richardson, Santana and Salaam got five to 10 years in prison as juveniles. Wise was sentenced to five to 15 as an adult.
A serial rapist comes forward
With the trials over, Meili -- believing her attackers were behind bars -- ran the New York City Marathon in 1995.
"I felt so proud of the hard work that had gotten me there 'cause it was hard. I mean, I worked hard," she told "20/20." "And in that moment, I realized or I felt that I had reclaimed my park. … It was so exhilarating."
In 2002, 13 years after the Central Park attack and with four of the Central Park Five out of prison, convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes came forward and said he was Meili's sole attacker.
He had met Wise earlier when they were both at New York's Rikers Island jail, and then later had seen him at a prison upstate. Reyes, who has doing 33 years to life for a murder-rape conviction, reached out to police, who were able to match his DNA to the DNA at the Central Park crime scene.
Reyes also knew some details about Meili and the crime that had never been released and that only the person who had been there could know. Reyes, who had been given the nickname "East Side Rapist" for a series of violent rapes along Madison Avenue in the spring and summer of 1989, had also attacked a woman in the park a few days prior to -- and not far from -- the April 19 attack on Meili.
"I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA," Meili said. "So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn't a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that's when some of the turmoil started, wondering 'Well, how can that be?'"
Meili and doctors Kurtz and Haher said there was medical evidence to support the charge that more than one person was responsible for her attack. Her injuries were different from what Reyes claimed as the sole attacker, Meili said.
"There were hand prints pressed into her skin that looked red in outline," Kurtz said.
Haher said the hand prints were of different sizes as well.
"It looks like, to me, more than one person doing that," Haher said.
The Central Park Five's convictions are vacated
In 2002, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau withdrew all charges against the Central Park Five, and their convictions were vacated. Wise, who was still in prison at the time, was released early. The group sued in 2003 and after a decade-long standstill, the lawsuit was settled for $41 million. The city, however, did not admit to any misconduct by its police department or prosecutors.
"The five of them went to Central Park to beat up people and they ended up with millions of dollars and they’re heroes and civil rights icons," Reynolds said. "It’s appalling."
Meili now works with survivors of brain injuries, sexual assault, and other kinds of trauma.
"I believe they gain strength, too, to move forward," she said.