Joint Letter to Manhattan DA Cy Vance
June 13, 2019
Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Manhattan District Attorney
One Hogan Place
New York, NY 10013
Re: Former Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit Chief Linda Fairstein and Current Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer Cases Review
Dear District Attorney Vance,
We write you today regarding former Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit Chief Linda Fairstein and current Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer, urging your office to re-examine every case that these prosecutors have been involved in over their respective tenure as prosecutors in Manhattan.
We believe that this is in the best interest of the public based on the deeply disturbing portrayal of both Fairstein and Lederer during the Central Park Five case in the Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”
While “When They See Us” is a dramatization, the series was based on real-life accounts, documentation, and videotaped illegal confessions. As public defenders serving low-income communities across New York City, we see the severely disproportionate conviction rates of Black and Latinx men and women every day. It 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.
Ms. Fairstein ran your Sex Crimes Unit for 25 years and oversaw thousands of investigations. Given the blatant and inexcusable foul play that Ms. Fairstein wielded during the prosecution of the Central Park Five, it is quite plausible that other innocent defendants have been wrongly convicted and are currently living in cages, lives and families destroyed.
It is sickening that Ms. Fairstein still maintains that the five men probably played some role in the rape, even after your office vacated their convictions. More importantly, her unyielding position in the face of overwhelming exonerating evidence is emblematic of how careless and self-righteous she was as a prosecutor. This is further reason why you must reopen all of her cases and carefully review every single one.
In 2002, your predecessor issued a report recommending that the convictions against the five be vacated, acknowledging that there had been significant problems with the prosecution’s case. 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.
We join the voices of New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Women’s March co-founders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, and many others, in urging your office to review these cases.
Matthew W. Knect
The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
Criminal Defense Practice The Legal Aid Society
NY County Defender Services