'Central Park 5' Prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer Steps Down As Columbia Professor After Student Protest

"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," Elizabeth Lederer said as a result of the public's reaction to "When They See Us."

By Gina Tron
Digital Original
6 Wrongful Convictions That Were Overturned

Public backlash over the wrongful rape convictions of five teens in the infamous Central Park Five case, depicted in Ava DuVernay's new four-part Netflix series "When They See Us,” has pushed a prosecutor in that case to step down from her adjunct professor job at Columbia University.

In case you’re not up to date on the original story: Five teens of color — Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16 — were wrongly convicted of the rape and assault of 28-year-old Trisha Meili, an investment banker who was attacked in Central Park in 1989. The boys spent between six and 13 years in prison for the attack before being exonerated in 2002 after the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed. The new Netflix series depicts the teens as being coerced into confessing and denied their human rights.

Elizabeth Lederer was the lead attorney prosecuting the teens. She had been assigned to the case by Linda Fairstein, who ran the office that supervised the prosecution in the case and who has faced a backlash of her own since the release of “When They See Us.” Fairstein has called the Netflix series an “outright fabrication” and denies that the boys were refused basic human rights.

Lederer announced Wednesday she will not seek reappointment for her part-time lecturer job at Columbia Law School.

Elizabeth Lederer

“I’ve enjoyed my years teaching at CLS [Columbia Law School], and the opportunity it has given me to interact with the many fine students who elected to take my classes,” Lederer said a letter announcing that decision, obtained by the New York Post. “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.”

The school’s dean Gillian Lester, put out her own statement which states that the series “reignited a painful — and vital — national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice. I am deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that furthers this important and ongoing dialogue, one that draws upon the lived experiences of all members of our community and actively confronts the most difficult issues of our time.”

Lederer still serves as a prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Her decision to step down at Columbia came one day after the school’s Black Law Students Association called for Columbia to drop her, the New York Daily News reports.

"Lederer is not the first prosecutor to send innocent Black and Latinx children to prison, nor will she be the last. Rather, the legal system as a whole, including legal education, endorses a carceral state that devalues the lives of Black and Brown people,” a letter from the group states in part. “Columbia Law School should fire Elizabeth Lederer but that is just a start. The school needs to address the racism in how the law is taught."

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