NEW YORK, SEPT. 11 -- After listening to one defendant denounce him in a rambling, angry rap poem and the others proclaim innocence, a judge sentenced three teenagers today to the maximum permissible prison terms for raping and brutally beating a jogger during her nightly run in Central Park last year.
"I think my debt to society has been paid," said Yusef Salaam, 16, during a rap monologue in which he prayed in Arabic and invoked the names of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. "It's the price of being a black man living in America today.
"I used to think people and the cops were cool," said the 6-foot-3 teenager, dressed in a pink shirt and a blue cardigan. "I stand accused." Defiantly, he invited Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas B. Galligan to "give me the max," and the judge immediately complied.
The sentences of from five to 10 years for Salaam; Raymond Santana, 15, and Antron McCray, 16, were the harshest available for the attack, which became a national symbol of urban violence and racial tension. All are to serve part of their terms in juvenile prisons but, by the time they are 21, must be moved to adult facilities.
"The intensity of the violence that occurred that night is something no rational mind can explain," Galligan said, handing down sentences in a courtroom packed with activists and reporters and ringed with armed guards. "Central Park was created as an oasis in our city. It was turned into a torture chamber."
The three were convicted of rape, riot, robbery and assault, crimes considered so serious that the youngsters were tried as adults. But because each was younger than 16 on April 19, 1989, when the attack occurred, Galligan was required to sentence them as juveniles.
"The quality of life in this city has been seriously eroded," Galligan said, addressing the broader theme of constant crime and fear that have come to dominate life in New York. "Is it less egregious that a woman has her head bashed in by a 15-year-old than by person who is 20 or 30?"
Both of the other teenagers spoke before sentencing, but each delivered a quiet statement of thanks to supporters and families. Salaam drew the most attention, as he did during the trial with his stylish clothes and razor-cut, high, flattop haircuts.
"I look upon this legal lynching as a test," Salaam said, while glowering at Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer, who prosecuted the case. "Who knows? I may receive many tests throughout my life."
The three were quickly removed from the courtroom by officers as soon as the sentences were pronounced and as nearly a dozen spectators in the courtroom raised their fists in salutes of solidarity.
Tension ran high throughout the seven-week trial and 10 days of jury deliberations, but it peaked today when two well-known activists, C. Vernon Mason and William Kunstler, replaced two of the original defense lawyers in the courtroom.
Each attacked the judge as a racist, and Mason, who has become publicly identified with many crimes viewed as racially sensitive, said he would appeal the original verdict and the sentences with "all my might."
"There is almost unanimous belief in the black community that this court is prejudiced both racially and religiously," he said before sentencing. A loud burst of applause greeted those remarks.
The crime, in which a 30-year-old investment banker was brutally raped and beaten so severely that she lost three-fourths of her blood, brought instant national attention on New York. Many saw it and the attacks on four other people in the park that night by the same group of youths, as a striking symbol of how brutal life in New York, and in many other cities, has become.
McCray and Santana delivered chilling, videotaped confessions that supplied the prosecution's only strong evidence. Salaam, the only one of the three to testify in his defense, said a statement he gave to police was coerced.
The case also drew wide publicity because the woman, never named by most news organizations, was a highly successful, well-educated and privileged member of the city's professional elite. The contrast between her and the mostly poor black and Hispanic youths who attacked her became to many a symbol of the polarization of life in New York.
Two other defendants are to go on trial for the same crimes next month, and a third, an adult, faces trial next spring.