The prosecutor who put the Central Park Five in prison has penned an angry op-ed claiming the new Netflix series about the case is an ‘outright fabrication’ and says that while the men were not guilty of rape, they did commit other crimes which should not be forgotten.
Linda Fairstein, 72, was the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit when Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 15, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were accused of raping and attacking Trisha Meili in 1989.
The teens had been in the park with others and, along with raping Meili, were convicted of assault and robbery.
Most of the charges applied to her but others applied to two male joggers and Patricia and Gerry Malone, a couple on a tandem bike, who they also confessed to attacking.
In 2002, they were freed after spending 12 years behind bars following the confession and DNA match Matias Reyes who confessed to attacking Meili. Their other convictions were also overturned which Fairstein says was a mistake.
She left the District Attorney’s Office in the same year and has since made a living writing crime books though none are about the case.
The convictions have received newfound notoriety thanks to Ava Duvernay’s new Netflix series When They See Us which Fairstein is played by Felicity Huffman.
Since its release, there has been a tidal wave of criticism against the former prosecutor who critics say must pay for her role in the ordeal.
Fairstein, however, stands by her conduct and claims she has been unfairly prejudiced.
She says that they were never painted as the sole perpetrators of the sex attack and that juries knew as much because there was unidentified DNA on Meili’s body when they were sent down.
Just because they did not perform the act themselves, she argued, it does not mean they never touched or harmed her.
‘Ms. DuVernay’s film attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them. None of this is true,’ she wrote in her op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Fairstein wrote that the men may not have been guilty of rape, but that they were guilty of assault, robbery and other crimes because they were part of a 30-strong riot taking place in the park.
‘At about 9 p.m. April 19, 1989, a large group of young men gathered on the corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue for the purpose of robbing and beating innocent people in Central Park.
‘There were more than 30 rioters, and the woman known as the “Central Park jogger,” Trisha Meili, was not their only victim.
‘Eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries,’ she wrote.
She also maintains that they did attack Meili in some way but that they were not the main culprits of her attack.
‘Mr. Reyes’s confession, DNA match and claim that he acted alone required that the rape charges against the five be vacated.
‘I agreed with that decision, and still do.
‘But the other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated.
‘Nothing Mr. Reyes said exonerated these five of those attacks.
‘And there was certainly more than enough evidence to support those convictions of first-degree assault, robbery, riot and other charges,’ she said.
Fairstein also picked apart some of the details presented in the series about how the boys were treated.
‘Consider the film’s most egregious falsehoods.
‘“When They See Us” repeatedly portrays the suspects as being held without food, deprived of their parents’ company and advice, and not even allowed to use the bathroom.
‘If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city.
‘They didn’t, because it never happened,’ she said.
She added that it missed out key sections of why she thought the boys were guilty – including testimony from one of them about entering the park with a pipe – and says there are issues with basic facts.
‘In the first episode, the film portrays me at the precinct station house before dawn on April 20, the day after the attacks, unethically engineering the police investigation and making racist remarks.
‘In reality, I didn’t arrive until 8 p.m., 22 hours after the police investigation began, did not run the investigation, and never made any of the comments the screenwriter attributes to me,’ she said.
Fairstein also took umbrage with a scene showing two of the defendants being arrested in the street, claiming instead that they were arrested at home.
She says that while she is glad the men have been able to rebuild their lives, she claims there key components from the narrative of the story missing and that the alleged omission is an ‘outrage’ to victims families.
‘It is a wonderful thing that these five men have taken themselves to responsible positions and community respect.
‘That Ms. DuVernay ignored so much of the truth about the gang of 30 and about the suffering of their victims—and that her film includes so many falsehoods—is nonetheless an outrage.
‘Ms. DuVernay does not define me, and her film does not speak the truth,’ she wrote.
DuVernay previously told that she had tried to control how she was portrayed in the series.
‘Linda Fairstein actually tried to negotiate. I don’t know if I’ve told anyone this, but she tried to negotiate conditions for her to speak with me, including approvals over the script and some other things.
‘So you know what my answer was to that, and we didn’t talk,’ DuVernay said earlier this month.
There has since been a campaign launched to boycott Fairstein’s successful books.
Santana, one of the five who spent years locked up, has called for her to be brought to justice.
‘Even if it’s 30 years later, she has to pay for her crime,’ he told TMZ.
After their 2002 release, the men sued the City of New York and were awarded a $41million settlement.
Meili has spoken out since the men were released and the case was settled in civil court to maintain her belief that more than one person attacked her.
She has no memory of the incident having been found, barely alive, in a ravine at around midnight – nearly four hours after she entered the park for her nightly jog and was attacked.
Her injuries were so severe they were described by plastic surgeons as the worst the had ever seen.
When she learned Reyes claimed to carry out the attack alone, she said she was stunned.