DA Watch (or As the Cookie Crumbles)

A lot of us in the blogging community were strong supporters of Seth Williams in his race against Lynne Abraham during last May’s primary. However, lest any of our readers think that our interest in the goings on at the DA’s office was limited to that one race, I thought I would highlight a few news items that serve as, unfortunately, more proof that our current DA’s office is not operating as well as its should be.

Click "read more" below to see the evidence.

First up, in Friday’s Daily News was a report that the rape charges against Omar Lezama de la Rosa are being dropped. According to the article which you can read here De La Rosa had been charged with rape and robbery in an incident that occurred six years ago. Apparently de la Rosa was mistaken for his cousin and now, via DNA testing, he has been exonerated. De Rosa was happy with the DA and, according to the DN:

“they did their job,” he said in a wilting Mexican accent.

Well I’m glad he thinks so, but I’m not so sure. Mistakes can be made, but it troubles me that the DA’s office would have locked this guy up for life if his attorney hadn’t pushed for DNA testing. And even though he is free now, the attention brought to this case has already set the wheels in motion for his deportation from the US.

Second up is a report that a judge threw out felony charges in the case against a South Street bouncer. This bouncer kicked a punter out of a club and ended up tossing him over a railing and into a 13-foot fall. Obviously this bouncer deserves some kind of punishment for his careless and overly aggressive behavior, especially as the kid who fell was in a coma for a few weeks afterwards, but for the DA’s office to have sought attempted murder and other felony charges seems like a text book case of overcharging. Read the whole article here and see for yourself what overcharging looks like.

Lastly, and perhaps the most disturbing report on our favorite DA, is the story of a second innocent man who had been imprisoned for a murder that Juan Covington actually committed. Clyde Johnson, an HIV counselor for Congreso, despite a pretty solid alibi, was arrested and charged with murder in a 2004 killing that Juan Covington has recently confessed to. His arrest seems to have been solely based on eyewitness reports, which are notoriously unreliable. This article is definetly worth a read.

So, to sum up what I fear will not be the only edition of “DA Watch”

I am left wondering why the DA’s office moves forward in the prosecution of cases where they clearly do not have enough evidence to achieve convictions. Not only I am worried about serious miscarriages of justice, but I also wonder how efficient a DA’s office can be that gets it wrong so often.

Philadelphians do want justice for victims of crime but they also need to know that there is justice for those accused of committing crimes and yes, even justice for those convicted of crimes.

The next DA’s race is a long way off. We can’t content ourselves with waiting until then to start affecting some changes now. The best way to get the ball is rolling is for all of us to start telling Lynne Abraham what we think about the activities of her office. Send her an email at DA_WEBMAIL@phila.gov and post any replies you get in the comments section below.

no love lost for Abraham, but hard to put this in context

... I also wonder how efficient a DA’s office can be that gets it wrong so often.

Just to be sure we're having a fair discussion, how should we judge "so often"? Is this more than 1-2% of cases? How does it stack up against the performance of "better" departments in comparable cities? As a scientist, I find myself a bit distrustful of conclusions that I am forced to make based on (high-profile) anecdotal evidence. (But even by those standards, this is three cases in 6 years, which gets us back to my first question...)

Anybody with more info to contribute?

good point, but...

ACM you make a good point: claiming that the DA' s office screwed up a lot would need to be quantified further as a general statement. However, at least in terms of the issue of overcharging, we do know from the primary that Lynne loses 50% of felony cases at preliminary hearing. I believe the bouncer on South Street example I cited is an example of that. He was charged with a felony and the charges were reduced by a judge.

Beyond that, in a POLITICAL context, it is fair to say that these screw-ups are equal to or worse than many made by certainly the Mayor. Yet, the Mayor's screw-ups get a lot more attention. Why? From a political context, I would say that it is fair to claim that the DA's office is screwing up a lot if there are 3 stories in one paper that report on serious errors made by the DA's office.

To that end, the Daily News did contain an editorial about this very issue today, though they referred to the problem as one of law enforcement agencies- it's fine to do this I suppose, but there is a particular culpability that I expect the DA's office to assume in the cases that i cited. Further, I expect the news media to start asking harder question to the DA's office about the goings on there.

Random thought: it's not that

Random thought: it's not that Seth Williams was so good, it's that Ms. Abraham is so bad. Look for some other, possibly more competant and compelling candidates to run for an open DA seat the next time around. Seth's going to have some competition, should "the Cookie" step down.

"I expect the news media to start..."

I hope they do!

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