Friday, May 03, 2013


A confession from a known serial rapist and a DNA match to that serial rapist made clear, years after the fact, that the five young men arrested for the 1989 rape and near-murder of Trisha Mieli, the "Central Park Jogger," were innocent of that crime. The exonerations came after all five had served their full prison sentences. The case was the subject of an excellent documentary recently aired on PBS, The Central Park Five.

One of the talking heads in the documentary is Jim Dwyer, who wrote for Newsday at the time of the rape; he now writes for The New York Times. In the movie, he comes off as a voice of reason -- he's not one of the people who still believe the young men originally arrested for the crime actually committed it.

But today he's written a huffy column about a viewer of the documentary, Frank Chi:
Mr. Chi searched the Internet for the lawyer who prosecuted the case, Elizabeth Lederer. He saw that she was still an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, and is an adjunct member of the faculty at the School of Law at Columbia.

Mr. Chi posted to Twitter, truncating some words to make them fit.

"Amazing that Elizabeth Lederer teachs at @ColumbiaLaw," he wrote. "Doe she teach how to force false confessions?"
He posted an online petition, solicited signatures on Twitter, and got a few thousand signatures.

And that's it. That's all that's happened. Columbia hasn't fired Lederer. She hasn't lost her ADA job. Oh, the reference to her work on the case was removed from her Columbia bio page. But that's it.

So what's Dwyer's conclusion? This:
It was a simple task to discover Elizabeth Lederer on Google, just as those boys were easy to find in the park. The petition has found someone to blame, repeating the very mistake of the injustice it deplores.
Yes, he actually wrote that: repeating the very mistake of the injustice it deplores. Sending five young people to prison for years for a crime they didn't commit is identical to posting an online petition in an attempt to get a prosecutor who helped secure that false conviction fired from one of her two prestigious jobs -- and failing to accomplish that. Ruining the lives of five poor nonwhite kids is the equivalent of creating a mild inconvenience in the life of a white professional.

But we do grade these things on a curve, don't we? If the perps are young and brown, we want to throw the book at them; if they're white and established and in nice suits, we think merely exposing what they've done is more than sufficient, because at that point they've "suffered enough." (See: everyone ever exposed as responsible for the financial meltdown.)

No, Lederer did not secure the convictions all by herself. Yes, the mood of the city made the convictions all but inevitable. And yes, the five did confess (falsely, under duress, and mostly without lawyers or parents present).

But Lederer won't even endorse the decision of her old boss, now-retired DA Robert Morgenthau, to push for the overturning of the convictions when the evidence pointing to Reyes came to light. And as Dwyer acknowledges, "Ms. Lederer wrongly told the jury that hair found in the clothing of one of the boys 'matched' hair from the victim, a seeming corroboration of the confused, rambling confessions. Even at the time, that overstated the evidence."

Oh, but she's one of us. So a petition linked on Twitter is like six years in the joint for, y'know, one of them.


The petition is here, by the way.


UPDATE: Oh, almost forgot to add this, from Dwyer:

"Lynch mob"? Against Lederer? Seriously?


Victor said...

And because we Liberals have wanted John Yoo to lose his license to practice law for years now, and now he's feeling persecuted, we Liberals are the REAL torturers.

It's like we're crushing the poor man's testicles, so we need to lay off him!

Examinator said...

Let's get real here folk, vision is always 20/20 in hind sight.
Unless she can be proven guilty in a court of law of deliberately lying to the Court at the time I can't see why she should lose either job. Neither should she be publicly harangued for doing her job.
The flaw is in the system i.e. the reality is that prosecutors are measured by having successful prosecutions and defence attorneys on successful defences. in short a court cases are completions... not necessarily a search for the truth or Justice.

I would also ask why should she comment on her boss' motives?

Ten Bears said...

I think there may be a fundemental lack of understanding of how of the adversarial system works: her job is/was no different than that of a defense attorney, indeed as a public prosecutor she is/was by definition the public's defense, and that is to win at all costs regardless our personal convictions of guilt or innocence.

This is a tad startling as we talk about it all day long.

No fear.

Examinator said...

the problem for me is that the adversarial system is corrupted by money and experience.
I.e I doubt very much that the defence attorney was in the same class as the ADA.
Likewise available technology at the time and access to what was available would have played its part in this apparent miscarriage of justice.

I think Dwyer's tweet is talking in metaphoric terms. it is also why I don.t have a twitter or text it is simply too easy to be misunderstood no room for context or nuance.
Not all of us are catchy wordsmiths, or masters of the quip like a Ben Franklin, Mark Twain or an Oscar Wilde.