An adjunct professor at Columbia Law School is now at the center of a controversy for the role she played more than 20 years ago as the lead prosecutor against five young Black and Latino men in what became known as the Central Park Five case.
Various community advocates and a political consutant, Frank Chi, have called for the law school to remove Elizabeth Lederer, a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, from the faculty because of her role in the prosecution of the five teenagers who were eventually exonerated of the charges after spending a dozen years in prison.
She has also been the target of threats, according to reports in the media. The New York City Police Department is investigating those threats.
Her role in the Central Park Five case was recently removed from her online web site at Columbia, which now lists her current duties in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. In addition to being on the faculty at Columbia, Lederer works in the forensic unit of the prosecutor’s office investigating unsolved murder and rape cases.
The case involved the assault and rape of a white female jogger while running in Central Park in 1989. In what became a nationally watched trial, the five teenage young men – four Black and one Latino – were convicted for the crime. The convictions were vacated in 2002 when a convicted rapist and murderer serving a life sentence for other crimes confessed to committing the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in the rape.
Since then, the case has received even wider, international attention as the subject of a critically acclaimed 2012 documentary by the renowned filmmaker Ken Burns along with Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The film has renewed interest in the case and has launched the five one-time defendants as highly sought after speakers.
The issue has created controversy not only at Columbia, but among Black law students around the country.
“Her role as a prosecutor with the Central Park jogger case has put her ability and her qualifications in question,” said Thurston Hamlette, a third-year law school student at Howard University, in an interview with BET.com. “It is an issue that the school should take time to consider.”
Lederer did not respond to a request to be interviewed by BET.com.
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(Photo: D Dipasupil/Getty Images)