Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor in the 1989 Central Park jogger case that resulted in the wrongful conviction of five black and brown teenagers, will not return as a lecturer at Columbia Law School, the school’s dean said in a letter Wednesday.
Lederer’s decision is the latest fallout from the critically acclaimed Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” which shed new light on the investigation into the brutal rape of Trisha Meili, told through the perspectives of the five boys, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.
“I’ve enjoyed my years teaching at CLS, and the opportunity it has given me to interact with the many fine students who elected to take my classes,” Lederer said in a statement, which was included in the letter sent by Dean Gillian Lester. “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.”
After the release of the series, Columbia University’s Black Students’ Organization circulated a petition demanding Lederer step down from her role as a lecturer, garnering nearly 10,000 signatures. On Tuesday, the Black Law Students Association at Columbia Law School wrote an open letter calling for the school to fire her.
“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the BLSA wrote. The group also noted that there had been multiple efforts urging Columbia to take action against Lederer, including a petition in 2013, but the school only removed the mention of the Central Park case from Lederer’s online bio.
Lederer’s case was largely based on confessions from the five boys, which they and their lawyers have said were coerced. No physical evidence tied the five to the scene, and years later, DNA was matched to convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes, who admitted sole responsibility for the attack on Meili.
Fury over the wrongful convictions was also directed at Linda Fairstein, who was the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sex crimes unit during the investigation. In the series, Fairstein is portrayed as willing to do anything to convict McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise, even when physical evidence didn’t support her theories.
Fairstein has since resigned from the boards of three nonprofits and the Vassar College board of trustees.
In its letter to the school, the BLSA also called on Columbia to “address the racism inherent in how the law is taught.”
“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,” the group wrote.
It asked the school to have “professionally-led, mandatory, anti-racist training for all educators at the law school” and to re-evaluate hiring policies and curriculums “to prevent perpetuating racist practices.”
Lester noted that a special committee on diversity and inclusion was currently working “to examine ways to advance and support inclusive teaching and learning experiences.”