NEW YORK (AP) — The Mystery Writers of America withdrew a major honor Thursday from author Linda Fairstein after other authors condemned the ex-prosecutor’s role in New York’s notorious “Central Park Five” case.
The decision, just two days after the Grand Master Award was announced, marked the first time the group has ever rescinded the prize, which recognizes lifetime achievement and has been given to Sue Grafton and Stephen King among others.
“MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members,” the group said in a statement that also pledged to re-evaluate its process for selecting honorees. “We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.”
Fairstein, known for her best-selling novels featuring prosecutor Alex Cooper, wrote on her Facebook page that she was “extremely disappointed, of course, to have this great award-designation revoked so hastily.”
“I remain enormously proud of our pioneering work at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, advancing the ability of victims of violence to triumph in the criminal justice system,” she added. “I thank MWA for the initial honor and for the joy it inspired, which can never be revoked.”
When the award was announced Tuesday, Fairstein called it “a thrilling surprise.”
“I’m pinching myself,” she tweeted at the time.
But some prominent mystery writers, including Attica Locke and Nick Kolakowski, expressed outrage over the decision. On Thursday, Locke tweeted “Thank you @EdgarAwards for listening.”
Fairstein was the top Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor when five teenagers were charged with the 1989 rape and beating of a female investment banker jogging in Central Park.
The attack became a national symbol of urban mayhem at a time when New York City’s murder rate was nearing its historical peak. The case also bared the city’s racial and class divide, painting a portrait of a crew of black and Hispanic youths “wilding” and preying on a white professional. Donald Trump, a New York real estate developer at the time, bought full-page newspaper ads reading “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”
The teens said they were coerced into confessing their involvement in the attack. Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime alone, and DNA linked him to it.
Prosecutors stopped short of declaring the five innocent but withdrew all charges. The legal time clock had run out for charging Reyes, who was already serving life in prison on other convictions.
Fairstein observed the boys’ 1989 interrogation, conducted by another prosecutor and police. She didn’t personally try the case.
Since its collapse, she has denied the teens were coerced and has defended authorities’ conduct in the case, explored in a 2013 documentary by Ken Burns.
The city reached a roughly $41 million settlement with the five the next year, while not admitting any wrongdoing.
In announcing Fairstein’s honor had been rescinded, the mystery association said Thursday that its board was “unaware of Ms. Fairstein’s role in the controversy.”
Locke and Fairstein exchanged caustic tweets after the award was announced. Locke, who is working with Ava DuVernay on a Netflix docudrama about the case, called Fairstein “almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five” and castigated her for not apologizing.
Fairstein responded by tweeting Locke should “learn your facts,” adding: “Your anger and comments are so misdirected.”
Fairstein built a reputation as a pioneering prosecutor of sexual offenses during her 25 years of leading the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes unit. She retired in 2002, but already was established as a crime novelist, having agreed in 1995 to a two-book, $500,000 deal. Her first novel, “Final Jeopardy,” came out in 1996 and was the basis for an Edgar-nominated TV miniseries starring Dana Delany. Her other books include “Killer Look,” ”Devil’s Bridge” and “Lethal Legacy.”