The Prosecution in the Central Park Jogger Case

There is an excellent, very long article recapturing the Central Park Jogger case, and particularly the conduct of the original prosecutors, in this week's Village Voice, When Justice Is a Game: A Journey Through the Tangled Case of the Central Park Jogger by Sydney H. Schanberg. We recommend you read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

"Morgenthau has a court date of December 5 to deliver his recommendations on whether the convictions should be vacated. Unseen backstage, the two assistant district attorneys in charge of Morgenthau's reinvestigation, Nancy Ryan and Peter Casolaro, are said to be under heavy lobbying from the players who produced those convictions. It's now a tug-of-war between a fair decision and one that would try to protect some carefully crafted reputations. "

Of prosecutor Linda Fairstein, Schanberg writes:

"So intense was the push for confessions that Fairstein, who had sought and achieved celebrity from her sex-crime prosecutions, bullied and stalled and blocked the mother and two friends of one suspect, Yusef Salaam, from gaining access to him. Fairstein's apparent purpose was to keep the suspect under wraps because she had been informed by the interrogating detective that the questioning was in a delicate phase where Salaam had begun to make some admissions. A short while later, Fairstein realized she could not bar the mother any longer, and the angry parent halted the interrogation."

"Linda Fairstein, a fiercely competitive, driven professional who was 41 at the time of the jogger rape, has since left the D.A.'s office to write novels about an assistant district attorney who prosecutes sex crimes. When the rape occurred, she raced into the fray to wrest the case away from Nancy Ryan, 39, another upward A.D.A. who was Fairstein's chief rival in the Morgenthau constellation. Now, Morgenthau has put Ryan in charge of his reinvestigation of the case. Those who know Fairstein say she harbors a dream of succeeding Morgenthau as Manhattan D.A. The latest developments could wreck that dream."

"....People sometimes use the phrase "the game" to describe how big systems like government and multinational corporations often get manipulated not for the common good but for the good of the people who run them. It's not a description of evil, but rather of human nature. It explains what happens when individuals have been doing things a certain way for a long time and come to believe this is always the right way. One symptom is when a player begins to focus only on winning, on trouncing the opposing side. Another is when people become so habit-formed and sure of themselves that they stop asking the question: "Could I possibly be wrong about this?"

"The story of the Central Park jogger case may be in large part a story about people in the justice system playing the game—when they should have been doing the right thing. "

The second article is about DA Linda Fairstein, and three cases she's botched, not just the jogger case, leading the author and others to speculate that her quest for higher office and greater power and fame may be at a dead-end:

"Following a confession to the Central Park attack by imprisoned serial rapist Matias Reyes, whose DNA links him to the brutal crime, the jogger case seems to be cracking open to reveal prosecutorial failures. Worse, this appears to be the third flub of a major case from the glory days of a prosecutor who was once a Clinton administration candidate for United States Attorney General and who is still considered by some a contender to replace current district attorney Robert Morgenthau should he retire."

"Fairstein's behavior seemed so outrageous that in the 1993 appeals decision on Salaam's case then appellate court judge Vito Titone specifically named her in his dissenting opinion and blasted the entire interrogation process. He recently told Newsday, "I was concerned about a criminal justice system that would tolerate the conduct of the prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, who deliberately engineered the 15-year-old's confession. . . . Fairstein wanted to make a name. She didn't care. She wasn't a human."

"Though Fairstein retired from the D.A.'s office last spring, many attorneys agree that she still has devotees both in that office and among detectives. And according to some close to the case, the rivalry between her and Ryan, who is said to believe the Central Park Five were not linked to the crime, still exists."

"But there is the possibility that Fairstein's power is beginning to diminish. She recently pressured producers at ABC's Primetime not to run a story featuring interviews with a few of the Central Park Five. ABC not only ran that show, but aired a clip of it on Good Morning America, which is co-anchored by Diane Sawyer, a longtime Fairstein friend who wrote praise for her first book. Of course, her staying power remains to be seen in February, when the D.A.'s office is scheduled to release its final decision on the Central Park case."

Also not to be missed on the Jogger case are the recent Voice articles, Marked as the Enemy by Dasun Allah in which the five convicted youths speak and Across 110th Street by Rivka Gewirtz Little, about the changed lives of the families of the five convicted youths.

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