Skip To Content

Should Linda Fairstein’s Involvement In The Central Park Five Case Keep Her From A Mystery Writing Award?

Mystery novels can be morally dubious. They often use horrific incidents to entertain and sometimes to titillate their readers. We can continue to enjoy them without too much compunction, however, knowing that the events are made up. So what happens when someone who supervised a real-world miscarriage of justice is being honored for her work in crime novels? Can we separate the facts of her life from the fiction she creates?

In a November 27 piece for the LA Times, novelist and attorney Steph Cha decried the Mystery Writers of America’s selection of crime novelist Linda Fairstein for a 2019 Grand Master Award at their annual Edgar Awards Gala. Cha did not object to Fairstein’s work as a writer, but her career as a sex crimes attorney in New York City.

“She shouldn’t be the toast of a black-tie literary gala — she should be notorious,” Cha wrote.

Prior to writing the bestselling Alexandra Cooper series of novels, about a sex crimes prosecutor, Fairstein, as head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, oversaw the case which led to the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five, a group of African-American teenagers accused of raping a white female jogger in 1989. New DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist exonerated the Central Park Five in 2002, but not before they served between six to 13 years in prison.

Cha lambasted the Mystery Writers of America, of which she herself is a member, for neglecting to acknowledge the Central Park Five case in their announcement of Fairstein’s selection. She wasn’t alone in her outrage.

Author Attica Locke, whose book “Bluebird, Bluebird” won this year’s Edgar award for best novel, began the discussion of Fairstein’s suitability for the Grand Master award. In a six-part Twitter thread, Locke asked the organization to reconsider.

Cha writes that Locke, like herself, was unaware of the company they kept in Fairstein until recently when Locke began work on a Netflix dramatization on the Central Park Five case for Netflix.

“Her presence among us should be the scandal of every conference — it probably would’ve been earlier if there had been more crime writers of color when the Five were exonerated in 2002,” Cha wrote. “How many of us have been polite to her on accident because the rest of us were polite to her on purpose?”

Fairstein has never apologized for her role in the Central Park Five verdict, but she defended herself against Locke’s accusations on Twitter.

“Ms. Locke – I was neither the prosecutor nor investigator in the case you mention. I was certainly NOT the person who ‘singlehandedly spearheaded’ the investigation,” Fairstein tweeted. “Why don’t you and I have a civilized conversation, so I can refresh you with the facts?”

Fairstein did not serve as the prosecutor on the case, but she did, in her capacity as head of the Sex Crimes Unit, oversee it.

Locke and Fairstein traded comments on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, neither yielding in their arguments. At 3:28 PM Fairstein signed off, writing “good night”

“I think the ‘good night’ here is the sun setting on all the years you’ve gotten away with not being held to account for your actions in the court of public opinion,” Locke replied.

The Mystery Writers of America also responded to Locke’s objection yesterday with a short statement on their website: “We are taking seriously the issues raised by Attica Locke. Our Board is going to discuss these concerns as soon as possible and make a further statement soon.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.