Prosecutor with Vineyard ties under fire

Netflix series puts Linda Fairstein in spotlight for handling of Central Park Five case.

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Author and Chilmark seasonal resident Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, is facing backlash following the release of Netflix's new series “When They See Us,” about the case. — Katherine Marks

Updated Wednesday, June 12*

A former prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, and seasonal Chilmark resident, Linda Fairstein, is facing intense backlash after the release of the Netflix series, “When They See Us,” a dramatization of the events surrounding the trial, recently premiering on the streaming platform.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Fairstein has resigned from at least two nonprofit boards due to intensified criticism of her role in the 1989 case. “Fairstein was the top Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor when five teenagers were charged with the 1989 rape and beating of an investment banker jogging in Central Park,” the AP story described, going on to say that their convictions were later overturned after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime, and DNA evidence linked him to the crime.

The teens have stated that they were coerced into confessing their involvement in the attack, and Fairstein observed the boys’ 1989 interrogation, conducted by another prosecutor and police, inciting the recent backlash. Since the collapse of the case, the AP reported, Fairstein “has denied the teens were coerced and defended authorities’ conduct in the case.” The city reached a roughly $41 million settlement with the five in 2003, following the 2002 confession of Reyes.

According to the AP, 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.

Fairstein resides in both Manhattan and on Martha’s Vineyard, and aside from her time as a prosecutor, has made a career authoring crime novels. The Times spoke with Fairstein in March about her newest novel, Blood Oath, and the writing process.

“I like to write in the mornings, and especially feel energized by the calm and beauty of the Vineyard when I am at my Chilmark home in spring and summer. I have written most of this series of crime novels in my writing studio on the Vineyard,” Fairstein told Abby Remer, “since I was a prosecutor for 30 years and did the same work that she does, I expect that the readers will learn something about the world of criminal justice. It’s the authenticity of my own prosecutorial work that I think sets this series apart from so many others, and I hope that my readers will be gently informed about that work.”

Attempts to reach Fairstein through her publicist have been unsuccessful.

AP also reports that 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.”

In an interview with the New York Post published on Tuesday, Fairstein has claimed to have resigned from the boards of God’s Love We Deliver and Joyful Heart Foundation, a group with a mission to help survivors of the kind of crimes that Fairstein prosecuted, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay.

Fairstein told the Post she was forced to resign due to the “mob-mentality reaction” to the Netflix series, which has led to backlash as far as here on the Island, where people have called for her books to be taken off of shelves in local bookstores. Hashtags of #CancelLindaFarstein have sparked a movement, and there have been calls to withhold funding.

“Each of these organizations does great work,” Fairstein told the Post. “It’s so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid.”

This is not the first time Fairstein has faced backlash. Last year, the Mystery Writers of America withdrew a major honor from Fairstein, following condemnation of her role in the Central Park Five case.

Fairstein has been a panelist for Islander’s Write, an event that showcases writers with ties to the Island. The event is sponsored, in part, by The Times.

*This post has been updated to include additional attributions to the Associated Press.

6 COMMENTS

  1. From her resignation indignations quoted above she seems more focused on making this about her and how she’s been wronged. The Central Park Five were deeply wronged. 5 juveniles served between 6 and 14 years in prison before being exonerated. A $41 million settlement was reached. And yet this is all about her? So she has to resign from some charities — they’ll all survive fine without her. She’s simply embarrassed. Maybe her next book, written peacefully from her home in Chilmark, should focus on lives and years wrongly spent in prison.

  2. Never a good idea to throw out the baby with the bath water. Never a good idea to jump onto a mob mentality. Truth and fairness and reality go beyond what you see on Netflix. There would be no Sexual Assault Reform Act without Linda Fairstein who has done more for sexual assault victims than anyone. Remember when it was fair game in a rape trial to talk about a rape victim’s past sexlife? Remember when it was okay to say a woman’s skirt was too short, suggest she was promiscuous, and was “asking for it”? I do.

    • I also want to add that I am not in any way defending the tragedy of what was done to those 4 teenaged boys who were victimized by the accepted racism within the court systems and within our country. It’s still there and there are still people, especially of color, sitting in jails for crimes they did not commit. I am just not sure how Linda Fairstein’s actions directly resulted in the convictions of these young men and need more than a Netflix show to prove that her entire career and life should end in disgrace, ignoring the profound, life-changing good she has done.

  3. let’s pull all of trump’s books off the shelf– While Fairstein was doing her job as a prosecutor in 1989, donald trump spent $85,000 on full page advertising, fanning the flames of racism trying to get those kids executed. In 2013 after it was clear the central park 5 were innocent, he called the Netflix documentary ( which the Netflix series is based on ), a “one sided piece of garbage”. To this day he has never acknowledged their innocence.
    https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/a27586174/when-they-see-us-central-park-5-donald-trump/

    Fairstein has done a lot of good in her life. There is nothing fair about the kick back she is getting.

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