Central Park Five prosecutor resigns from Columbia Law after ‘Netflix portrayal’
Elizabeth Lederer, the lawyer who prosecuted the Central Park Five case that resulted in their wrongful convictions, has resigned from her role as a lecturer at Columbia Law School amid backlash over the Netflix miniseries When They See Us.
Lederer led the team that tried five black and Latino boys in connection with the brutal rape of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Teenagers Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam said police coerced them into providing false confessions. Nevertheless, they were all wrongfully convicted in a high-profile trial in 1990, and those convictions were not overturned until the real attacker confessed to the crime in 2002.
Lederer informed Columbia Law on Wednesday that she would not seek to renew her position as a part-time lecturer, according to a letter Gillian Lester, the school’s dean, sent to students. The dean said the Netflix series “reignited a painful — and vital — national conversation about race, identity and criminal justice.”
Lederer was New York’s assistant district attorney in 1990 and still works in the D.A.’s office in Manhattan.
“I’ve enjoyed my years teaching at CLS and the opportunity it has given me to interact with the many fine students who elected to take my classes,” Lederer is quoted as saying in a statement from the school. “However, given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application.”
WATCH: Ava DuVernay, cast discuss ‘When They See Us’
The Black Law Students Association at Columbia called for the school to fire Lederer in a letter sent on Tuesday, one day before her departure.
“Columbia’s inaction on this subject shows a disconnect between the values Columbia purports and the actions the law school takes,” the letter said.
Lederer previously resisted calls to resign from Columbia in 2013 after a Ken Burns documentary reignited outrage over the case. Columbia removed a reference to the case from Lederer’s biography amid the outcry.
She’s not the only person to face backlash from filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s miniseries. Linda Fairstein, who led the D.A.’s sex crime unit at the time, resigned from several organizations earlier this month. She was also dropped by her publisher despite a successful run as a crime novelist.
Fairstein recently condemned the miniseries in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, calling it “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”
New York City settled a lawsuit over the wrongful convictions for US$41 million in 2014. The settlement did not include any admission of wrongdoing by investigators.
WATCH: The Central Park Five case — a timeline
Actress Felicity Huffman portrays Fairstein as a hard-driving prosecutor determined to convict the five accused boys in When They See Us. Vera Farmiga plays Lederer in the miniseries.
On Wednesday, Netflix announced that When They See Us “has been the most-watched series on Netflix in the U.S. every day since it premiered on May 31.”
Netflix released a followup to the series on Wednesday in which Oprah Winfrey interviews the five men 20 years after the incident.
—With files from the Associated Press
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