Controversial Central Park Five prosecutor hits back at the Netflix series

Naomi Gordon
Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

From Cosmopolitan

The former prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, Linda Fairstein, has hit back at Ava DuVernay's Netflix series When They See Us , dismissing it as "so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication."

The powerful four-part series is based on the true story of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, who spent a decade in prison for a crime they did not commit. But it has inflamed new controversy over Linda Fairstein's role in the case .

Photo credit: Getty Images

Fairstein - played by Felicity Huffman in the series - ran the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office in 1989. She was also the lead prosecutor who oversaw the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of the five then-teenagers, following the rape and attack of a white woman named Trish Meili in Central Park. The men were exonerated in 2002, and reached a settlement with the city of New York in 2014.

Photo credit: Netflix

In the series, Fairstein maintained the five boys' guilt - despite none of the DNA collected at the crime scene linking them to the crime. Matias Reyes - who was serving a life sentence for the murder and rape of Lourdes Gonzalez - confessed to the crime in 2002 . He was able to relay facts 13 years after the attack was committed, and his DNA subsequently confirmed his guilt.

But Fairstein continued to maintain the five boys were involved, even suggesting that they had colluded with Reyes in the rape. Reyes said he committed the crime alone, and Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise pleaded not guilty.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal , Fairstein claims that the series failed to include crucial details, such as a riot of more than 30-people that took place on April 19, 1989, shortly before Trisha Meili's rape.

Fairstein argues that filmmakers only focused on the five accused men, rather than "the larger picture of that terrible night: a riot in the dark that resulted in the apprehension of more than 15 teenagers who set upon multiple victims."

Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

When They See Us focuses on the five men because its aims is to restore humanity and dignity to each of the individuals, and dismantle the pejorative collective of the 'Central Park Five' that they became known as.

Fairstein wrote that "eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalisation for head injuries," and that there is evidence the five were involved in the riot. The men pleaded not guilty and were exonerated of all charges 17 years ago.

She added that it was "so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication," and that DuVernay portrays her as a "prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse". She claims she has been depicted in a grossly and maliciously inaccurate manner.

Fairstein conceded that "it is a wonderful thing that these five men have taken themselves to responsible positions and community respect," but "ignored so much of the truth about the gang of 30 and about the suffering of their victims".

Photo credit: Taylor Hill - Getty Images

It was recently reported that has Fairstein - now a novelist - resigned from numerous boards in the wake of criticism following the miniseries, after #cancellindafairstein started trending on Twitter.

Over the weekend her publisher, Dutton, told the Associated Press that they had dropped Fairstein following the backlash.

DuVernay responded: "I think that it’s important that people be held accountable. And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago. But I think that it would be a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished for what she did because it's not about her. It's not all about her."

She added: "[Fairstein] is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way. It was built to oppress, it was built to control, it was built to shape our culture in a specific way that kept some people here and some people here. It was built for profit. It was built for political gain and power. And it is incumbent on us; it lives off us, our taxpayer dollars, our votes, the goods that we buy that are made inside of prisons. It lives off of our ignorance and we can no longer be ignorant. OK, Linda Fairstein. OK, Elizabeth Lederer. OK, all of these people on this particular case who need to be held accountable."

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