All shall be equal before the law / Ben Sutherland

June 5, 2019; WNYC

New York City’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, along with two city council members, demanded that other cases prosecuted by Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer be examined for the same kind of malfeasance that occurred in the “Central Park 5” case that serves as the basis for the Netflix mini-series When They See Us by filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Fairstein and Lederer were the prosecutors in that famously bungled case; Fairstein is now a crime novelist, and Lederer is still with he Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

The call makes sense in light of the terrible damage done to Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise—five teen boys who spent years in prison on the basis of forced confessions. That’s not to mention the further damage done by the real rapist, who went free and went on to stab and rape other women, killing Lourdes Gonzales.

While Fairstein’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, says Fairstein has already suffered substantially, having been forced to resign from several nonprofit boards she served on (including Vassar College and the victims services nonprofit Safe Horizon), the case reminds us of the untold number of people languishing in prisons and even on Death Row for the crime of being at the mercy of overzealous prosecutors and police hoping to clear a case and make a name for themselves. And although there is a new awareness of, for instance, the use of junk science in gaining convictions and of coercion to gain confessions, the public has not yet been willing to demand swift redress. The review of too many cases remains blocked by logistical details is a defiance of real justice, sometimes for years.

A communications person from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance issued the following statement:

We will review the letter. We believe DA Morgenthau made the right call in 2002 when he reinvestigated the case and dismissed the indictments against Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Jr., and Korey Wise. His exhaustive reinvestigation—which culminated in a 58-page memorandum supporting the dismissal filed by this Office at that time—found no evidence of misconduct by the prosecutors who originally litigated the case, and in 2014, New York City Corporation Counsel Zach Carter conducted an independent review which concluded that “both the investigating detectives and the Assistant District Attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably, given the circumstances with which they were confronted on April 19, 1989 and thereafter.”

Even if the DA doesn’t see anything wrong here, we have more faith in the public’s ability to distinguish between real justice and the appearance of public safety through incompetent subterfuge. We hope Vance rethinks his position.—Ruth McCambridge