Central Park Five Prosecutor Resigns from Columbia Law School

Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, has resigned from her position as lecturer at Columbia Law School. Lederer announced on Wednesday, June 12 that she would not renew her teaching application because of the publicity surrounding the recent four-part Netflix series by director Ava DuVernay called When They See Us.

On Tuesday, June 11, the Black Law Students Association at Columbia had called on the university to fire lecturer Lederer for her role as lead prosecutor in the case. In an open letter, the organization called on the law school to fire Lederer and to show it cares about law students of color by addressing the “racism inherent in how the law is taught.” The letter noted that there have been multiple attempts to have Lederer removed, including a 2013 petition, but the law school has done little more than remove the Central Park jogger case from Lederer’s bio.

Lederer, now a senior trial counsel with the New York County district attorney’s office was the lead prosecutor in the Central Park Five case in 1989, which saw five Black and Latino boys wrongfully convicted for a horrific rape.

“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the letter states. “During the investigation, Lederer and her colleagues used harmful, racist tactics, including physical abuse and coercion, to force confessions from the five minors.”

The five boys — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise — spent years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Their charges were finally vacated in 2002 after a man named Matias Reyes confessed to the rape and was linked to the crime through DNA evidence.

“The Black Law Students Association demands that Columbia Law School explain any actions it has taken to hold Elizabeth Lederer accountable,” the letter continued. “We also ask that Columbia implement professionally-led, mandatory, anti-racist trainings for all educators at the law school, re-evaluate the hiring curriculum to prioritize staff that already brings cultural competencies into the classroom, and re-evaluate law school curriculums to prevent perpetuating racist practices.”The Black Law Students Association did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.

The association’s open letter comes on the heels of a petition by the Black Students’ Organization demanding Lederer step down from her role in the wake of the miniseries about the high-profile case. The petition, which has been signed by more than 9,600 people, also called on the Columbia University School of Medicine to revoke prosecutor Linda Fairstein’s Award for Excellence. Fairstein was a prosecutor in the Central Park Five case along with Lederer. Lederer and Columbia Law School could not be reached for comment.

The case has received renewed interest after Netflix released DuVernay’s miniseries in May. Fairstein, who ran the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 1989, has been the focus of much of the backlash. The successful crime novelist has faced calls for a boycott of her books and was dropped by her publisher, The New York Times reported. She was also forced to step down from several non-profit boards. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Fairstein criticized the show as “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.” The Netflix series shows Fairstein, who was played by Felicity Huffman, as advocating for the boys’ convictions despite inconsistencies in their confessions and no physical evidence tying them to the crime.

“Ms. DuVernay’s film attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them,” Fairstein wrote in the op-ed. “None of this is true.”The New York Times noted that some of the claims made by Fairstein in her op-ed do not match up with the record.

She claimed that the series shows the teens being held without food and not having their parents present during all of their interrogations. Fairstein claimed that if that were true, then the boys would have “brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings.” A 2003 report on the investigation by the New York Police Department shows the teens did bring up the issues during a pretrial hearing, but they were unsuccessful.

Fairstein has maintained the five boys were part of a group of more than 30 teens who were at Central Park the night of the brutal rape. Some of those teens assaulted and robbed people. However, the boys’ connection to those crimes has been linked to their statements, which they claim were coerced.

The five defendants settled a lawsuit with New York City for $41 million in 2014. The city did not admit any wrongdoing.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.