Central Park Five case prosecutor resigns from Columbia Law School
A prosecutor in the Central Park Five trial has left her post at Columbia Law School in the latest fallout from the portrayal of the case in a Netflix miniseries.
Netflix’s “When They See Us” tells the story of the wrongful convictions of the five then-minors in the rape and beating of a jogger in 1989.
Elizabeth Lederer, who taught at the school and still works for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told law school Dean Gillian Lester on Wednesday that she enjoyed her years at Columbia but has decided not to renew her teaching application due to the publicity generated by Netflix’s portrayal of the case.
The Columbia Black Law Student’s Association had called for her resignation and launched a petition demanding she step down.
“The miniseries has reignited a painful — and vital — national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice,” Lester said in a statement. “I am deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that furthers this important and ongoing dialogue, one that draws upon the lived experiences of all members of our community and actively confronts the most difficult issues of our time.
The five men of color — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam — were minors when they were arrested and convicted of raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989.
They spent between six and 13 years in prison before their convictions were overturned in 2002 after a convicted serial rapist confessed to the rape and DNA evidence matched him to the crime. The city settled with the men in 2014, and they were awarded $41 million.
Backlash on both sides
The Netflix series has sparked backlash on both sides for its portrayal of the case.
Linda Fairstein, the embattled former sex crimes prosecutor of the five teens, criticized the Netflix series in a piece published Monday in the Wall Street Journal. She described it as “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”
In the piece, she accused series director Ava DuVernay of ignoring facts, wrongly portraying the group as innocent and defaming her.
“It shouldn’t have been hard for Ms. DuVernay to discover the truth,” Fairstein wrote. “Instead she has written an utterly false narrative involving an evil mastermind (me) and the falsely accused (the five).”
Facing criticism over her role in the case, Fairstein resigned last week as a member of the board of trustees of Vassar College, her alma mater.
Netflix and DuVernay have not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.
The case sparked cries of injustice with coerced confessions from the teens.
The series has stoked strong feelings as it shows the then-teens being beaten by police to obtain confessions and documents their trials and subsequent struggles.