The lead prosecutor in the Central Park Five case resigned from Columbia Law School amid scrutiny following the release of Ava DuVernay’s critically-acclaimed, When They See Us series.
The documentary prompted students to launch a petition calling for the termination of Elizabeth Lederer. The Black Law Students Association at Columbia University wrote in a letter:
“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the letter read. “During the investigation, Lederer and her colleagues used harmful, racist tactics, including physical abuse and coercion, to force confessions from the five minors. The case they built was founded on false information and an overwhelming lack of physical evidence. As a result, five boys spent their formative years in prison until the charges were vacated in 2002 after the real perpetrator confessed to the crime and DNA evidence linking him to the crime was discovered.”
Lederer announced her decision in a statement shared by Columbia Law School Dean Law Gillian Lester.
“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,” she said in a statement. “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.”
Lederer worked part-time at the university as an adjunct faculty member and lecturer in law.
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While we are pleased with this announcement, we recognize that there is much work to be done. We hope to work with the administration, faculty, and students to implement mandatory trainings for all faculty, and to ensure more inclusivity in the classroom. The proposed trainings will contribute to a robust learning community for all students at Columbia Law School.
Lederer is played by Vera Farmiga in the four-part Netflix original series. The mini-series tells the real-life stories of Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kevin Richardson who were all wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman. The defendants spent between six years to thirteen years in jail before the actual rapist confessed and they were exonerated in 2002. They were awarded a $41 million dollar settlement twelve years after their exoneration.
Netflix recently announced that When They See Us has become it’s most-watched original series but we don’t know the exact numbers yet.