NEW YORK, AUG. 7 -- Lawyers for three Harlem youths charged with a brutal attack on a female jogger last year in Central Park portrayed their clients today as hapless victims of a police force far more interested in making quick arrests than in protecting the rights of suspects.

In their closing arguments of a case that has become a jarring national symbol of racial fear and sexual violence, the defense lawyers said police pressure forced the teenagers accused in the violent spree on April 19, 1989, to confess to crimes that they did not commit.

"These boys were picked up at random by the police," said Peter Rivera, attorney for Raymond Santana, 15. Santana, Antron McCray, 16, and Yusef Salaam, 16, have been charged with taking turns raping and savagely beating the jogger in a violent sweep through Central Park that popularized the word "wilding" in the nation's vocabulary.

"There were anywhere from 35 to 50 boys in that park that night," Rivera continued. "These boys were arrested because the cops had to make a case. There was tremendous pressure, and the cops buckled under pressure."

The prosecution's closing argument is scheduled Wednesday morning. The jury is expected to begin deliberations in the eight-week trial later in the day.

All three youths have confessed to the crimes in great detail. Santana and McCray each agreed to be videotaped, and their confessions were the prosecution's central piece of evidence. At one point, Santana told police that the rampage was "fun."

Neither physical evidence nor eyewitness accounts have been presented to tie the defendants to the crime, and their lawyers attempted to belittle the confessions as the pleas of boys who would do anything to be allowed to go home.

"The police were able to pressure Antron McCray and {his father} into giving a quick statement," said Michael Joseph, McCray's lawyer. "It is not for me to explain their motives."

The three are the first of six youths expected to be tried for attempted murder, rape, sodomy and other charges resulting from the hour-long rampage in which eight other people also were attacked. If convicted, each defendant could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Salaam testified during the trial in Manhattan Supreme Court that he entered the park with others and had an iron pipe that the prosecution said was used to batter the jogger, 30, an investment banker. But he said he lost the pipe after entering the park and denied participating in the rape or beatings.

All three suspects sat impassively today for nine hours as their defense team described them as boys bent on doing what police asked of them and said they were made scapegoats for their willingness to come forward.

Because the confessions have made compelling evidence and resulted in considerable publicity, the lawyers strove to convince the jury that the confessions were spurious.

All of the lawyers readily acknowledged the horrible nature of the crime, which left the jogger so badly battered that nearly 75 percent of her blood was lost.

The jogger, whose name is used in court but generally has not been mentioned in the news media, testified for 15 minutes July 16, describing permanent effects of the attack, and was not cross-examined. She suffers from post-traumatic amnesia and said she cannot recall events from 5 p.m. the day of the attack until a day about six weeks later.