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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Case of ‘Central Park five’ remains muddy

Mystery Writers of America has rescinded its Grand Master award to best-selling detective novelist Linda Fairstein. She was in the Manhattan DA’s office during the Central Park jogger case.

Linda Fairstein, a New York Times bestselling author

Linda Fairstein, a New York Times bestselling author and the former chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Photo Credit: Katherine Marks

In yet another instance of political correctness run amok, the Mystery Writers of America has rescinded its Grand Master award to best-selling detective novelist Linda Fairstein. Its reason: her role three decades ago as the sex-crimes supervisor in the Manhattan DA’s office, which amid the 1980s racial furies in NYC wrongly convicted five black and Hispanic teens of the rape of a 28-year-old white woman, who became known as the Central Park jogger.

Worse, Fairstein has refused to concede that the “Central Park five” were innocent victims coerced by the NYPD into confessing their crimes, as the media now portray them. The pages of history have been rewritten to create a narrative as misleading as the rush to convict them. As writer Attica Locke posted on Twitter, Fairstein “is almost single-handedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five. For which she never apologized . . .”

The five, ages 14 to 16, were believed to have been part of a group of 40 youths roaming the park on the night of April 19, 1989, and assaulting a homeless man, a male teacher and a couple on a tandem bike. They were picked up near where the woman, Tricia Meili, was found barely alive.

No physical evidence linked them to Meili’s attack. While each of the five denied raping her, their taped statements to police implicated each other not just in Meili’s rape but also in the other attacks. Years later, I watched the confessions, which were chillingly believable and frighteningly convincing. A jury also believed them. The teens were sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison.

Then in 2002, 13 years after the rape, Mathias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer serving a life sentence, confessed that he alone raped and assaulted Meili. His DNA matched DNA from the scene. By then the five had completed their sentences, which were vacated. The five and their supporters have maintained the NYPD coerced their confessions. The NYPD was adamant that detectives did not coerce the confessions.

Enter filmmaker Ken Burns, who presented the five as Little Lord Fauntleroys, gliding over his narrator’s point that even if they did not rape the jogger, they were hardly innocents.

In its story last week on rescinding Fairstein’s award, The Washington Post wrote that the teens’ confessions had been “coerced.”

There was no attribution. The coercion has now been accepted as fact.

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