Central Park Five case prosecutor resigns from charity boards after backlash caused by Netflix's 'When they see us'

Linda Fairstein's role in the case is now being scrutinized after she was instrumental in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five African-American teenagers in 1990


                            Central Park Five case prosecutor resigns from charity boards after backlash caused by Netflix's 'When they see us'

Former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein has now resigned from Vassar College's board of trustees on Tuesday, June 4, amid a fresh wave of backlash for the role she played in the infamous Central Park jogger case. Fairstein's role in the case is now being scrutinized after she was instrumental in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five African-American teenagers in 1990 following the attack of a female jogger in Central Park.

NBC News reported that this happened after the release of visionary director Ava DuVernay's Netflix miniseries about the case: "When They See Us". The men, who were teens at the time, known as the Central Park Five - Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam - were exonerated 13 years after a serial rapist confessed to committing the brutal crime.

Director Ava DuVernay, center, with the Central Park 5: Raymond Santana, from left, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Anthony McCray and Yusef Salaam, attend the world premiere of "When They See Us," at the Apollo Theater in New York (Source: Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

Fairstein, who is played by Felicity Huffman in the series, ran the sex crimes unit for the district attorney at the time of the infamous case. The series on Netflix was credited as being behind the launch of the #CancelLindaFairstein hashtag on social media. There were also widespread calls for the previous cases to be re-examined.

On Tuesday, the president of Vassar College posted a letter on its website saying that Linda Fairstein had resigned as a Board of Trustees member. "I am told that Ms. Fairstein felt that, given the recent widespread debate over her role in the Central Park case, she believed that her continuing as a Board member would be harmful to Vassar," Elizabeth H. Bradley wrote.

The victims-services agency, Safe Horizon, also confirmed Fairstein's resignation on Tuesday, thanking her for "her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse." 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 teens said they were coerced into confessing their involvement in the attack. Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after a convicted murderer and serial rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed to committing the crime alone, and DNA linked him to it.

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 this March 26, 1988 file photo, prosecutor Linda Fairstein, left, is shown during a news conference in New York. Seated at the table from left are Fairstein, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and Ellen Levin, whose daughter Jennifer Levin was murdered in 1986 (Source: AP Photo/Charles Wenzelberg, File)

In an interview with the New York Post published on Tuesday, Fairstein said she also resigned from the boards of God's Love We Deliver and Joyful Heart Foundation, a group founded by actress Mariska Hargitay that helps survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Fairstein told the Post she was forced to act due to the "mob-mentality reaction" to the Netflix series, which has sparked a #CancelLindaFairstein movement and calls to withhold funding. "Each of these organizations does great work," she said. "It's so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid."

Last year, the Mystery Writers of America withdrew a major honor from Fairstein, known for her best-selling novels featuring prosecutor Alex Cooper, after other authors condemned her role in the Central Park Five case. 

With AP inputs

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