The Root: Manhattan District Attorney Refuses to Reopen Cases Handled by Central Park Five Prosecutor Linda Fairstein

Photo: Paul Hawthorne (Getty Images)

By Jay Connor
June 18, 2019

Since the release of Netflix’s haunting masterpiece When They See Us, karma has been working overtime to derail the lives and careers of former prosecutor Linda Fairstein and attorney Elizabeth Lederer—two of the biggest beneficiaries of the Exonerated Five’s 1990 convictions.

But despite calls to do otherwise, CNN reports that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance refuses to reopen the thousands of sex crime cases his office handled during Fairstein’s tenure. He’s also refused to fire Lederer, who’s served in the New York County DA’s office for the past 40 years.

While recognizing what happened to the Exonerated Five as a “profound injustice,” Vance wrote in a letter: “I do not intend to take either action at this time. Instead, I seek your help in publicizing to New Yorkers the availability of my Office’s Conviction Integrity Program process.”

His response comes after the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the Legal Aid Society, the New York County Defender Services and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called for a review of 26 years worth of cases.

Per the New York Daily News:

The letter from the three lawyers’ groups told Vance “[i]t is imperative that you investigate every case that has been led by Ms. Fairstein and Ms. Lederer to ensure that your office is not responsible for even one more innocent black or brown life sitting in prison today.”

“It is finally time to close this ugly chapter of negligence and recognize that the injustice of this case and the way it was prosecuted goes much deeper than we know. Let’s not wait any longer. Innocent people could be wasting away in jail. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

On June 12, Lederer resigned from Columbia University as a part-time professor after black students demanded that she step down, but it’s Fairstein who’s caught the brunt of the backlash—and consequences.

Her literary agency, ICM Partners, dropped her from its roster on June 11, following the news that her book publisher Dutton, an imprint of Penguin House, did the same. Additionally, she’s been forced to vacate the boards of both Safe Horizon and Vassar College, and a petition has surfaced demanding retailers drop her books from their stores and shelves.