About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Linda Fairstein and the Central Park 5 Started

In a recent post J. Kingston Pierce of the fine blog, The Rap Sheet, put up links to recent posts on the travails of legal mystery author, Linda Fairstein. Last year the CWA withdrew the award of Grand Master it was about to present her. More recently she has experienced the public humiliation of being pilloried in the Netflix series, When They See Us, being dropped by her publisher and resigning from  the boards of the victim support group, Safe Horizon, and her alma mater, Vassar.

I have not seen When They See Us. As a docudrama it is not a documentary. As such the director and producers have dramatic licence. I am not relying on what is portrayed in that series in my posts on Ms. Fairstein.

Last year’s furore in the CWA was mainly initiated by author, Attica Locke, protesting Fairstein’s selection as Grandmaster. Locke tweeted about Fairstein:

She is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five.

In a letter to the New York Law Journal in 2018 Ms. Fairstein fiercely maintained that:

…. I was not the prosecutor in the case nor was I one of the detectives or prosecutors who took the confessions from the 5. Instead, I was an eyewitness to many of the events at the police stationhouses throughout 36 hours when the statements were obtained.

I was doubtful about the reasons for the CWA withdrawing the Award but chose not to delve into the circumstances of Fairstein’s involvement in the prosecution of the Central Park 5 (hereafter “the 5”) in the late 1980’s.

The consequences of the Netflix docudrama and The Rap Sheet post prompted me to look at the evidence on Ms. Fairstein and the 5 .

I read through a variety of posts and articles on Fairstein. I read the Court of Appeal decision upholding one of the original convictions. I read the report of the District Attorney’s office filed in support of the application to vacate the convictions.  I read the court decision accepting the application to vacate the convictions. I looked up the Armstrong Report. (It was a report commissioned by the New York City Police Department on the District Attorney’s decision.)

As I would expect the posts and articles have more opinions than facts supporting their positions. As I am not seeking to write a lengthy analysis I will equally have more conclusions than facts. I will provide links to various materials I read following this post.

There is abundant evidence there were numerous crimes committed that night in Central Park by young men, mainly teenagers, beyond the assault and rape of the jogger. There is evidence the 5 committed other crimes that night. Their convictions were reversed for these crimes because of the new evidence of Matias Reyes who confessed to assaulting and raping the jogger. It was accepted by the DA and the judge on the vacating application that the new evidence could have produced different results on the charges unrelated to the jogger.

I am disturbed that Ms. Fairstein has attempted to use the evidence of other crimes to smear the 5 with regard to the jogger case. She knows better.

On the interrogation of the 5 Ms. Fairstein asserts she was not conducting the questioning. She leaves out that she was deeply involved in the process.

I much prefer the Canadian system where police conduct investigations and gather evidence and then present it to the Crown prosecutor. The involvement of prosecutors in investigations is bound to cloud the judgment of those prosecutors in prosecuting those they have investigated.

When I read Fairstein’s books Killer Heat and Terminal City. I shook my head over the participation, actually directing, of Assistant District Attorney, Alexandra Cooper, with regard to the fictional investigations. How could Cooper remain objective?

The appeal court in 1993 ruled the interrogations of the 5 were not coercive. Some writers have seized on a dissenting opinion that Ms. Fairstein was a part of coercive questioning. Relying on a dissenting opinion, without even considering the contrary majority decision, is questionable.

(My next post will conclude my thoughts on Ms. Fairstein and the Central Park 5)


  1. Thank you, Bill, for sharing your thoughts on this situation. It's good to have a legal opinion on this, even though you're not really writing a scholarly legal article or a brief here. For me, part of the problem with this sort of crime and the press that surrounds it is that it's quite difficult to get to the actual facts of the case. Certainly it's much more complicated than a lot of people think. I will be really interested in your next post.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I agree that in prominent cases opinions are easier to find than facts. While some crime fiction is complicated I find more often that real life is indeed more complicated. Those rendering opinions are too often in selecting facts to support their conclusions.

  2. Thanks for this professional unemotional breakdown of facts, with a taste of how the system in Canada might leave less room for bias although I believe we have improvements to make. I look forward to your next post.

    1. Ilonka: Thanks for the comment. I agree the Canadian justice system is not perfect. I do believe it is a good system

  3. I'll be keen to read your next post on the subject. It's a case that seems to polarize opinions.

    1. Col: Thanks for the comment. There are not just different opinions. There are rigid positions on both sides.

  4. Living in the Big Apple and reading about and seeing the 5 on TV news when they were arrested and prosecuted and seeing them pillories in the press (and threatened with the death penalty by the current White House resident), and some so young, it was very painful. Their families were in pain. And then the perpetrator confessing and DNA showed their innocence.
    Fairstein should have backed off, apologized and taken responsibility for her action. Then maybe some "fairness" would have come her way. But she kind of reaped when she sowed. And she double-downed when they were exonerated and when this film was being made. She didn't back off or apologize. She insisted on the 5's guilty at something. I think there is racism and arrogance at play here.
    Five people's youth was destroyed for no good reason. Their families were tormented. They have to live with that pain and horrible memories of prison when they could have been studying, working, having families, etc. Nope. Fairstein lived her life quite well during all of this. So she lost an award, two board positions and a publisher. What is that compared to years in prison for a crime they didn't commit -- and losing their youth? No comparison.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. My thoughts on this comment and your comment on the next post concerning Ms. Fairstein are in my reply on that post.