Linda Fairstein was the head of the Manhattan District sex crimes unit from 1976-2002. She’s known for prosecuting the Central Park Five, a group of four black men and one hispanic man who, as teenagers, were arrested and wrongfully convicted for the rape of the Central Park Jogger (a woman named Trisha Meili) in 1989.
Though the men have since been exonerated (and a serial rapist named Matias Reyes has since been convicted, with substantial DNA evidence), Fairstein has stood by her convictions and by her treatment of the men, who were teenagers at the time. In a 2002 interview with The New Yorker, she said in part,
“It was a much more friendly atmosphere, not the bare interrogation rooms. Nobody under sixteen was talked to until a parent or guardian arrived. Every kid was in an open space, no handcuffs. This was not an Alabama jail where two guys who have been partners for years put a guy in a back room and he doesn’t see the light of day for three days. Three of the five went home and had a night’s sleep before they were ever taken into custody. For most of them, the substance of their admissions came out within about an hour of the time they came in. The consistency from their original admissions to the police, to their written statements, to the final video is really remarkable.”
The members of the Central Park Five have since stated that they were the victims of coercion, and gave false confessions.To CBS this May, Raymond Santana said of the apparent confessions the teenagers gave, “We’re 14-, 15- and 16-year-old kids. Never been in trouble with the law. Never had no police contact. These [police] are seasoned veterans. This fight was fixed.”
After Fairstein retired, she parlayed her professional experience into a successful career as an author. Here’s what you need to know about where she is now:
Fairstein Now Writes a Fiction Series Known as the Alexandra Cooper Novels
According to her Amazon profile, Fairstein has used her professional experience in crime to create an internationally bestselling book series. She’s written over a dozen books, most of them fiction, some of which have been translated into over a dozen languages. Per her Amazon bio, she splits her time between Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard.
Of her work as a prosecutor for the sex crimes unit, Fairstein told Barbara Walters in 2017, “It’s nothing I set out to do…[but] I loved the ability to do something to try and get justice for women who, because of American law, had never been around the courtroom. It was very rewarding some days, and it was very dark some days.”
Fairstein, Walters noted in the interview, was known as “hell in high heels” for her ferocity in the courtroom.
Though Fairstein no longer works in the criminal justice field, she has reiterated her belief that the Central Park Five were in some way involved in the gruesome rape of the Central Park jogger, a woman named Trisha Meili. She said to The New Yorker in 2002, “I don’t think there is a question in the minds of anyone present during the interrogation process that these five men were participants, not only in the other attacks that night but in the attack on the jogger.”
In response to that, a lawyer representing three of the five wrongfully convicted men told the magazine, “Reyes is very clear about what he did. His profile is that of a solo artist, and he acted alone.”
Fairstein Was Given a Prestigious Writing Award in 2018, Which Was Then Revoked
In November 2018, Fairstein was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America; the award recognizes lifetime achievement in the genre of mystery fiction, and has been given to authors like Stephen King in the past.
However, the organization soon rescinded the award, after many expressed their outrage, given Fairstein’s involvement in the Central Park Five case. This marked it as the first time in history that the organization had ever rescinded an award.
In a statement via USA Today, the organization wrote, “MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.”
In response to the news that her award would no longer be given, Fairstein posted a status on Facebook, which explained that she was “extremely disappointed, of course, to have this great award-designation revoked so hastily.”
She continued, “I remain enormously proud of our pioneering work at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, advancing the ability of victims of violence to triumph in the criminal justice system. I thank MWA for the initial honor and for the joy it inspired, which can never be revoked.”
Fairstein Served as a Legal Consultant for Harvey Weinstein for a Period of Time
According to The Guardian, Fairstein was a consultant on Harvey Weinstein’s legal team in 2015, and helped him on a sexual assault case. The case in question involved a model named Ambra Battilana; she alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by Weinstein.
Specifically, Fairstein worked as a consultant for Weinstein for two years in relation to the assault claims against him, per The New York Post. In March 2015, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that he would not be pursuing Battilana’s claims against Weinstein; the New York Post reports that Vance cited that his decision was “guided by the sex-crime team.”
To The New York Times, Fairstein said that she was simply helping out a fellow lawyer; she was friends with Martha Bashford, the head of the district attorney’s sex crimes bureau at the time, and was the one to introduce Bashford to Elkan Abramowitz, Weinstein’s lawyer at the time. She said to the publication, “Calling Ms. Bashford to tell her who Elkan was and to ask her to consider meeting with him is the kind of thing I do four to six times every year.”
Fairstein further told the publication that she’d determined Battilana’s claim to be unfounded.