Amid public outcry over Manhattan former assistant D.A. Linda Fairstein’s handling of the Central Park Five case, the current D.A. is resisting calls to reopen thousands of sex crime cases between 1976 and 2002.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance is refusing a request from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to reopen the cases. He also said he won’t fire Elizabeth Lederer, the assistant D.A. who worked on the Central Park Five case, calling her “an attorney in good standing in this office.”
Williams letter is part of a recent backlash after the debut of Ava Duvernay’s Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us,” which premiered on May 31 and depicts the infamous case.
“I do not intend to take either action at this time,” Vance wrote in a letter to Williams, according to The New York Daily News, although he admitted the Central Park Five case “was a profound injustice.”
The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the Legal Aid Society and the New York County Defender Services were also copied in Vance’s letter.
Williams and the three legal groups had asked Vance to review all the cases handled by Lederer and Fairstein during the 26-year time period. Lederer served as lead prosecutor during the Central Park Five trial, and Feinstein led the Manhattan D.A.’s Sex Crimes Unit. The groups say in 1989, both women ignored evidence that should have cleared then-teenagers – Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam – before they ever stepped foot in a prison.
Instead the Black and Latino youths were tried and convicted in the brutal 1989 rape of white Central Park jogger Trisha Meili, and spent between six and 13 years in prison before being exonerated in 2002 after DNA evidence proved that the real rapist, Matias Reyes — who admitted to the assault — acted alone.
In the letter to Vance, Williams and the three lawyers’ groups wrote: “[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,” according to the Daily News.
The groups added in the letter: “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.”
The five men received settlements for their wrongful convictions totaling $41 million. Since the Netflix series, Fairstein and Lederer continue to face widespread backlash.