The Mystery Writers of America has rescinded an honorary award it was set to give former sex crimes prosecutor–turned–mystery author Linda Fairstein at its annual gala after vocal opposition from fellow writers.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the group announced Fairstein as a 2019 recipient of its prestigious Grand Master Award, an honor bestowed upon the likes of Stephen King and Agatha Christie. The choice was immediately condemned by fellow novelists who urged the group to take back the award, considering Fairstein’s past role in New York City’s infamous Central Park Five case.
The former prosecutor once served as head of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which wrongfully prosecuted five Black and Latino teens for the brutal rape of a park jogger in 1989.
Fellow writer Attica Locke was quick to voice her outrage over Fairstein’s award.
“As a member and 2018 Edgar winner, I’m begging you to reconsider having Linda Fairstein serve as a Grand Master in next year’s awards ceremony,” Locke tweeted directly to awards presenter the Edgar Awards. “She’s almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five, for which she has never apologized or recanted her insistence on their guilt for the most heinous of crimes — ‘guilt’ based solely on evidence procured through violence and ill treatment of children in lock up.”
Locke continued: “Just because she has a flourishing publishing career does not mean we should ignore her past — or her continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for ruining five innocent men’s lives. I can’t support this decision. Surely, someone else is more worthy our attention, support, and this laudatory role.”
By Tuesday, other mystery authors, some of whom were unaware of Fairstein’s involvement in the case until this week, were also speaking out against Fairstein’s award. It wasn’t long before Mystery Writers of America bowed to the outrage of its members.
“After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks support of such a large percentage of our members,” the association said in a statement this week. “Therefore, the Board of Directors has decided to withdraw the Linda Fairstein Grand Master award. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.”
Fairstein, who’s penned over 20 novels about a fictional sex crimes prosecutor, reacted to the news Thursday, saying she was “extremely disappointed, of course, to have this great award-designation revoked so hastily.”
The case of the Central Park Five made headlines across the nation, stoking racial fears and tensions after a group of Black and Hispanic teens were accused of brutally attacking a white woman jogger. Fairstein, now 71, was personally involved in coercing the false confessions that landed the teenagers behind bars for more than a decade before DNA evidence and a serial rapist’s confession cleared them of the heinous crime in 2002.
At the time, Donald Trump took out full-page ads in New York City newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty and wishing the suspects be “forced to suffer.” The men, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise, were later exonerated of the crime, yet Trump still insists they’re guilty.
After her award was snatched, Fairstein engaged in a social media spat with Locke for insinuating she was a lead prosecutor on the case.
“I was neither the prosecutor nor investigator in the case you mention,” she tweeted. “I was certainly NOT the person who ‘singlehandedly spearheaded’ the investigation. Why don’t you and I have a civilized conversation, so I can refresh you with the facts?”
“Your anger and comments are so misdirected,” the author added. “There are FACTS and TRUTHS. Learn them.”