The Bennett Law Firm and the “Bad Prosecutor Blog” website have carefully chosen to recognize the Ten Worst Prosecutors in the United States in 2007 to highlight the abuses in our criminal justice system and to start a discussion on what can be done about rogue prosecutors. When a crime is committed and it goes unpunished, justice is not done. But justice is also subverted when those who are called upon to enforce the laws of the justice system on either the state or federal level are corrupt or even very inept. In talking about the role of the federal prosecutor or the United States Attorney, Supreme Court Justice Sutherland wrote: “The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor – indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not a liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.”
While the Attorney General of the United States is not a field prosecutor, he sits on top of the federal law enforcement pyramid and as such affects, either directly or indirectly, every law enforcement decision and is certainly in charge of all federal law enforcement actions. He is “the” lawyer for the United States; he has the last say.
It is not an easy choice to determine who is the worst prosecutor in the country –given the choices in front of us this year. Of course, the easy selection would be Michael Nifong, the former District Attorney for Durham, North Carolina who was motivated by his own re-election and engaged in unethical, and probably criminal, conduct in the prosecution of three Duke University Lacrosse players.
But then how not to chose Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, Jr. who decided to prosecute a medical “Good Samaritan,” Dr. Anna M. Pou, who had stayed behind as Hurricane Katrina was destroying New Orleans. The former District Attorney of Dallas was allegedly proud of saying that any prosecutor could convict a guilty man, but that it took a real pro to convict an innocent man. Foti moved prosecution to a new level by having a doctor arrested who was trying to save lives. The rest of our top ten could easily be in the number one position but while seven of the nominees affected single digit numbers, Alberto Gonzales has almost destroyed an entire governmental department with thousands of employees and attorneys.
Out of a desire for fairness, each prosecutor on our list was contacted to solicit rejoinder to being named on the “Ten Worst” list. Most did not respond or provide any information that should change their listing. Attorney General Foti tried to hide behind the ruse that he was not really a “prosecutor.” This is like Attorney General Gonzales trying to say that he really does not know who runs the Department of Justice.
Each nominee will receive a certificate from the “Bad Prosecutor Blog” website commemorating their selection as one of the worst prosecutors in the nation in 2007. The certificate will probably not be hung in their office. Let’s then start with the worst and work our way down.
NUMBER ONE WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES
Alberto Gonzales – The Attorney General (AG) of the United States, in Washington D.C., Alberto Gonzales, earns the first place on our list of ten worst prosecutors in the United States for being what many have called the worst AG in our nation's history. His involvement in the firings of nine United States Attorneys and the politicization of the Justice Department form the basis for which he was selected as the worst prosecutor in the United States in 2007. When he testified in front of the U.S. Congress, he allegedly committed perjury by his false statements, inconsistent statements, and all of his “I don't knows.” Members of his own Department of Justice and the Head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, have contradicted his testimony. Even Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee considers Gonzales to be a liar. The United States Department of Justice has recently appointed a grand jury to investigate criminal accusations that have arisen out of the dismissal of the nine U.S. Attorneys and Gonzales may be the target of a major investigation by a Special Prosecutor; he continues to be the subject of Congressional investigations, and should be investigated by the State Bar of Texas Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for his unethical actions while White House Counsel and Attorney General. Maybe Gonzales also earns this top spot by how United States Senator Charles Schumer sums up listening to the testimony of Gonzales under oath: "He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth." Other than that, he has been a model government lawyer.
NUMBER TWO WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS FORMER TEXAS PROSECUTOR TERRY D. MCEACHERN
Terry D. McEachern – Gonzales has set a course of deception to destroy an entire Government Department. McEachern engaged in destroying an entire town. This ex-prosecutor is best known for seeking unlawful, cocaine possession charges against the African American community of Tulia, Texas; he now resides in Plainview, Texas. In Tulia, Texas, in July of 1999, 46 people (40 were African American), were jailed during a drug sting. This case was built on shabby evidence which was given by an undercover officer who was later indicted and now jailed. After several years in prison, 38 of the 46 people jailed were eventually freed after prosecution’s conduct came to light. The prosecution engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, and obstruction of justice. As reported in the September 25, 2005 Texas Bar Journal, the 242nd Texas District Court found that McEachern made a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.
McEachern engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation and engaged in conduct constituting obstruction of justice. He failed to disclose a fact to a tribunal when disclosure was necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act. McEachern offered or used false evidence that he knew to be false and falsified evidence or counseled or assisted a witness to testify falsely. He failed to refrain from prosecuting or threatening to prosecute a charge that he knew was not supported by probable cause or make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to him that tended to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigate the offense. In connection with sentencing, he failed to disclose to the tribunal all unprivileged, mitigating information known to him. McEachern’s misconduct violated Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 3.03(a) (1), (a) (2), and (a) (5) and (d) and 8.04 (a) (3) and (a) (4). He also had to pay $6,225 in attorneys’ fees to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas.
Gonzales and McEachern are both members of the State Bar of Texas. For all the pain and destruction McEachern caused, the State Bar of Texas Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (that is supposed to discipline attorneys who do wrong) negotiated a two-year fully probated sentence that meant that McEachern could continue to practice law without missing a beat. His website boasts: “23 Years as Prosecuting Attorney. Experienced in all areas of Criminal & Family Law. Our Goal is to provide the highest quality services to you and your business in a timely fashion.” There is nothing on his website about the Tulia cases or his numerous violations of the Professional Conduct Rules. If one goes to the State Bar website on attorneys, McEachern is listed as having a “Fully Probated Suspension,” but no information is given about what he did. On the attorney rating website, AVVO, it does provide a “strong caution” warning about McEachern, and gives him a low rating of 2.0.
NUMBER THREE WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS FORMER N.C. DISTRICT ATTORNEY MICHAEL NIFONG
Michael Nifong – It was a hard choice between a Chief Law Enforcement Office of the Federal Government who has paralyzed the Department of Justice and maybe committed perjury and a Texas ex-prosecutor who, with very questionable evidence, targeted the black population in an entire town in comparison to Michael Nifong, the former Durham, North Carolina District Attorney for the Duke Lacrosse case, who has now been disbarred and faces criminal contempt charges. Gonzales earns the award since he had nearly destroyed an entire department of government and Nifong comes in third place because he only destroyed the lives of three college students and their families and made an entire university look bad. After withholding key exculpatory evidence in a highly publicized case, Nifong continued to prosecute the innocent Duke Lacrosse players.
It has now been shown that Nifong engaged in dishonesty, fraud, and withheld exculpatory information which he was duty-bound to disclose. Nifong also acknowledged that DNA evidence connecting the defendants to his plaintiff did not exist when he first accused defendants on charges of rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. Nothing stinks like a prosecutor jumping the gun in order to ruin someone’s life except going forward with a case when you know you don’t have the evidence. Nifong had his law license taken away unlike McEachern who is still practicing law showing that North Carolina certainly cares a bit more about holding bad prosecutors responsible for being lawlessness. Lastly, we can thank Michael Nifong for the addition of another word to the American pop culture lexicon: to “Nifong,” meaning to blunder on a grand scale and lie your pants off in an effort to justify it or cover it up. For this accomplishment alone, he is deserving of a spot in the top 3 of our list of worst prosecutors in the United States in 2007.
NUMBER FOUR WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL CHARLES C. FOTI
Charles C. Foti, Jr. – It may be unfair as some have said that AG Foti as a representative of the Louisiana State Government should have been indicted for the neglect and dereliction of duty by the state government that followed Hurricane Katrina. But AG Foti surely cemented-in a position as one of the ten worst prosecutors in the country by announcing on July 18, 2006, that Dr. Anna M. Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry had been arrested and charged with four counts of second degree murder. Not only were the arrests made in grand stand fashion by AG Foti, but he also felt the need to issues a press release in which he stated (as if he were the judge and jury of the case) that intentional killings had taken place and that the medical professionals were: “guilty of murder; its not euthanasia (malpractice).” He continued to make extrajudicial statements about the allegations in the press and on the CBS show “60 Minutes” in a Nifong-manner. Even after a New Orleans grand jury recently refused to indict Dr. Pou (the cases against the nurses had been dropped), Foti Nifong-ed again by going public with his criticism of District Attorney Eddie Jordan for not calling the right witnesses and blaming the media for creating sympathy for Dr. Pou.
Of course, AG Foti has never addressed the basic issue as to why a highly regarded physician with a spotless record and faced with the horrific conditions of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Medical Center (MMC) in New Orleans, Louisiana would suddenly decide to start killing patients. Foti’s state government had abandoned the patients as well as most other nurses and doctors, but Dr. Pou had remained at the hospital with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, the lower floors inundated with five feet of water with no electricity or support. At least 34 deaths were cause by the horrible conditions. Now, a New Orleans grand jury has concluded that Dr. Pou was not responsible for any of the deaths. No action was taken against Dr. Pou by the Louisiana Medical Association, the New Orleans Coroner concluded that there was insufficient evidence to find that a crime had been committed, the American Medical Association has praised Dr. Pou, and one of the AG Foti’s expert witnesses has himself been indicted. However, many families of the victims in the hospital have filed several civil lawsuits against Dr. Pou, all of which have cost her ample amounts of money.
Foti first announced that it was his “duty” to seek indictment of Dr. Pou and the two nurses for the murder of the patients at MMC. He touted the case as his get-tough-on-elder-abuse political stance, but now his office is disavowing any connection with the case due to the backlash of community support in favor of the medical personnel and their actions under such horrific conditions. The Louisiana voters' disfavor of him was evident when he placed dead last in the three way primary in October 2007, losing his office to James "Buddy" Caldwell Jr. Foti is now facing a civil suit file by Dr. Pou who has accused him of using her arrest to fuel his re-election campaign. In addition to the civil lawsuit Dr. Pou filed, one has to wonder if she has also filed a complaint with The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. What Michael Nifong did in the Duke Lacrosse rape case in making inappropriate statements that cost him in part his law license appears to be identical to what AG Foti has done to Dr. Pou. Interestingly enough, there is no indication that Foti has had a complaint filed against him or has suffered any threat of professional discipline for his misconduct.
Arising from this case has been two bills proposed from the Louisiana State Senate. The two bills propose immunity for civil iability for in-state doctors and out of state volunteers practicing in disaster areas. Protection from criminal liability is still under House debate in the State of Louisiana.
NUMBER FIVE WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY JEFFREY AUERHAHN
Jeffrey Auerhahn – best known for putting New England mobster Vincent “Animal” Ferrara behind bars in the early 1990s. Ferrara was prosecuted for ordering the killing of Vincent James Limoli, in 1985, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The infamous case arose out of the Department of Justice's investigation and successful prosecutions of numerous individuals accused of being co-conspirators in the alleged Patriarca Family of La Cosa Nostra in the mid-1980s. Ferrara pleaded guilty to the murder pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government in connection with the Limoli murder; he was sentenced to 22 years in prison and served 13 years before being released in 2005 due to prosecutorial misconduct by U.S. Attorney Jeffery Auherhahn. Prior to Ferrara’s guilty plea, Auerhahn had learned that Walter Jordan (the government’s only source of direct evidence in the case) had been told by Ferrara’s co-defendant, Pasquale Barone, that Ferrara had not ordered the Limoli murder. Jordan’s statement had been presented, on at least two occasions, to the Government and had been reduced to writing but Auerhahn improperly and illegally failed to disclose it to defense lawyers. Instead, Auerhahn only informed Ferrara that Jordan would testify that Ferrara had directed Barone to murder Limoli and did so in an effort to encourage Ferrara to plead guilty, which he eventually did. Auerhahn’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to Ferrara constituted both a breach his affirmative duty and a blatant infringement on Ferrara’s constitutional due process rights.
The Justice Department's internal Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Jordan’s statement was exculpatory and that Auerhahn had a duty to disclose it. However, the Justice Department only gave Auerhahn a slap on the wrist for his misconduct and argued in a 2006 brief that the withheld evidence was not material and that Auerhahn was not required to disclose it. The presiding judge in the Ferrara case, Chief District Judge Mark L. Wolf wrote a letter to Alberto Gonzales complaining that the Justice Department's private reprimand of Auerhahn was an unduly lenient response to Auerhahn's decision to withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. Judge Wolf, dissatisfied with the Justice Department’s reprimand, requested that the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers launch disciplinary proceedings against Auerhahn. However, there is no indication that Auerhahn has been disciplined by the Board of Bar Overseers and their website lists him as “active” and that he “has no record of public discipline.” It is obvious, for the facts stated above, that Auerhahn should be reserved a spot on our list of the ten worst prosecutors because, in the words of Judge Wolf, his prosecutorial misconduct “required the release from prison of a Capo in the Patriarca family of La Cosa Nostra,” yet he has not been professionally disciplined and there is no indication that he will ever be held accountable for his indiscretions.
NUMBER SIX WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS GEORGIA PROSECUTOR DAVID MCDADE
David McDade – Best known for Prosecuting Genarlow Wilson. At the age of 17, Genarlow Wilson was a rising football star at Douglasville high school, in Georgia, with scholarship offers to attend some of the top universities in the nation. Shortly after his senior football season had ended, Wilson attended a New Year’s party at a hotel room where he engaged in consensual oral sex with a 15-year old girl. Wilson did not know it at the time, but this party would be one of his last moments of freedom. A week later, on the first day of the second semester of his senior year, Georgia police went to the school and escorted Wilson from the building in handcuffs. Wilson was charged with four felony offenses of rape and child molestation. Weeks before, Wilson had been in the newspaper for being all-conference in football and now, he was on the front page, branded as a rapist and child molester.
Genarlow Wilson refused to plead guilty and take the prosecution’s plea deal which had already been accepted by other defendants involved in the incident in exchange for a 5-year sentence. In February of 2005, Wilson walked into a Douglas County courtroom to face the charges and District Attorney David McDade’s team of prosecutors. Two charges had already been dropped, and it was evident from the first witness that the rape charge wouldn't stick either. However, the alleged child molestation was on videotape and shown to the jury. The jury acquitted Wilson on the rape charge but convicted him of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with another teenager; he was 17 and she was 15. Because the age of valid consent is 16 in Georgia and due to an archaic loop hole in Georgia law regarding oral sex, Wilson received a minimum mandatory 10-year sentence beginning in 2005, along with one year of probation, and is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
The harsh sentence Wilson received was widely denounced and Georgia changed its law so that no other teenager could be similarly sentenced under this loop hole in the law. After the change, if applied retroactively, Wilson would now be charged with a misdemeanor, up to one year in prison, and no sex offender registration. A Monroe County Superior Court judge then ordered that Wilson’s felony conviction be reduced to a misdemeanor and that he be immediately released from prison. Georgia's Attorney General, Thurbert Baker, and DA David McDade appealed that judge's ruling and have fought vigorously to keep Wilson behind bars.
McDade was also found to have distributed the videotape of the sex act between the two minors, and now may face legal troubles for violating federal child pornography laws. He released the video after receiving an open records request under state law from the Associated Press and said he has given it to about three dozen people in all, including reporters, lawmakers and several members of the public who requested it. Georgia’s Chief Federal Prosecutor, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, said in a statement that federal law prohibits the distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography in most circumstances and, thus, prohibits the distribution of the Wilson’s videotape because it depicts minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. McDade exclaimed that the release of the videotape was made pursuant to state law and was not illegal as it was evidence in the widely-publicized case. Nahmias' office refused to say whether they would bring criminal charges against McDade but reassures the inept prosecutor that federal child pornography laws supersede state disclosure laws.
It should be obvious from the facts presented above why we have selected Mr. McDade. His persistence in having Genarlow Wilson punished for a crime that no longer exists under Georgia law – because of its harsh effect on defendants such as Wilson – and for arguing that the change in the law cannot retroactively exonerate him, has secured McDade a spot on our list. Furthermore, violating federal child pornography laws and attempting to hide behind a petty state disclosure law should also provide sufficient grounds to have McDade removed from office, disbarred, and possibly prosecuted for his actions. The combined effect of all the events culminating from the Wilson case and McDade’s handling of it, has earned McDade a spot as our number six worst prosecutor in the nation in 2007.
NUMBER SEVEN WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS TEXAS PROSECUTOR CHARLES SEBESTA
Charles Sebesta – Best known for prosecuting Anthony Graves who was convicted of capital murder in 1994 and has served on death row for about thirteen years now. In 1992, in the small town of Somerville, Texas (about ninety miles outside of Houston), there was a brutal murder of a family of six and officials had always suspected that Graves was somehow responsible. Robert Earl Carter (a key prosecution witness and Graves’ co-defendant) met with Prosecutor Sebesta before the trial commenced and he immediately claimed full responsibility for the murders. Sebesta never made any mention of Carter’s inculpatory statement to Graves’ attorneys Calvin Garvie and Lydia Clay-Jackson. Carter testified against Graves implicating him as an accomplice and was eventually executed for the murders but, before he was put to death, recanted his testimony. Charles Sebesta’s prosecution and overall handling of the Graves’ case has raised many eyebrows and questions regarding violations of the rules governing the professional conduct of prosecutors in Texas.
The obligation of a prosecutor to disclose evidence of innocence has been expressed in every model code of ethics promulgated by the American Bar Association (ABA) since 1908. Likewise, the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (TRDP) provides in Rule 3.09 (d), that a prosecutor’s duty to disclose evidence is violated if he or she fails to disclose “all information that may support a claim of innocence, mitigate the offense, or reduce the punishment.” In other words, Sebesta violated Rule 3.09 (d) by failing to disclose Carter’s statement which could have been helpful in formulation Grave’s defense to the murders or, at the very least, could have been used to impeach Carter’s testimony at trial as a prior inconsistent statement. In addition, TRDP Rule 3.03 (a) (5), states that a “lawyer shall not knowingly… offer or use evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.” At trial, Sebesta violated Rule 3.03 (a) (5) by offering Carter’s testimony which implicated Graves as an accomplice and he did so with knowledge of a previous statement, in which Carter took full responsibility for the murders.
Sebesta prosecuted the Graves-Carter murder case “at all costs” and with no regard for the rule of law or rules of professional conduct. He presented false, misleading evidence at trial in an effort to secure the conviction of an innocent man who now sits on death row because of it. Does this attorney get a satisfaction from knowing he has put an innocent man on death row? How many more innocent people has he convicted and sent to jail? Has he been disciplined for his actions? Because Sebesta’s prosecutorial misconduct has given rise to these questions, there are adequate grounds to have him placed on our list of ten worst prosecutors in the United States in 2007. By the way, according to the State Bar of Texas website, Sebesta has not been disciplined (without any indication that an investigation has been launched) and he is listed as “eligible to practice in Texas.” Congratulations, Mr. Sebesta! You’re our (un)lucky number seven.
NUMBER EIGHT WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS WARD CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY RANDALL REYNOLDS
Randall Reynolds – Best known for his lack of leadership in response to allegations of sexual abuse at the West Texas State School in Pyote, Texas. Dating back to early 2005, a Texas Rangers investigation and 229-page report prepared by Sgt. Brian Burzynski alleged that at least two adult prison guards (John Paul Hernandez and Ray E. Brookins) sexually molested at least 10 incarcerated teen-aged boys for several months, while top Texas Youth Commission (TYC) officials did little to investigate or stop the activity. DA Randall Reynolds (who has a private practice on the side) was emailed a copy of the report in April of 2005 by Sgt. Burzynski, yet he delayed filing charges until January of 2007.
Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, by virtue of his office, can also prosecute such cases but can only do so after the local D.A.’s office notify his office and asks for assistance. The Texas A.G. and Governor are furious with Reynolds because he did not request intervention by the A.G.’s office until mid-January 2007 (nearly two years after allegations of the sexual abuse surfaced). Meanwhile, the prison guards suspected of molesting the young boys both had left town and at least one of them had secured employment working with school-aged children elsewhere. The local D.A.’s office in Ward County, Texas, is criticized for dragging their feet on the prosecution of the TYC prison guards but Reynolds feels that the criticism is harsh and unfair because he was unable to pursue the case until he did because he lacked “adequate staff” to do so.
By April of 2007, the Texas A.G.’s office was forced to take over the case due to Reynolds’ severe mishandling and it announced 13 indictments after the grand jury adjourned. A three-page petition for removal was filed in Ward County, Texas, against the so-called “do nothing D.A.” Randall Reynolds in connection with his failure to act diligently in response to the reports of sexual abuse at TYC. The petition alleged that Reynolds should be removed from office pursuant to Chapter 87 of the Texas Local Government Code for “incompetency” and “official misconduct,” citing his inaction on the TYC case. Reynolds, in response, filed his own removal petition on the same day claiming that Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker exceeded his legal authority by asking Reynolds to resign and/or seeking his removal. The county attorney – in this case, Mr. Acker – must represent the state in the case to remove Reynolds and that may be a source of animosity giving Reynolds an incentive to seek removal of Acker from office. At any rate, Reynolds may only be removed from office after a jury trial but we are certain that his misconduct and/or inaction is this case coupled with the age and relationship of the offenders to the victims, a jury will have no qualms about removing such an inept prosecutor from office.
While his blunder only ruined the lives of minor children and their families, and allowed pedophiles to continue their sexual acts with impunity for almost two years, one can only wonder whether McDade’s inattention to the allegations was only because the victims in this case were “bad seeds.” That is, would have Mr. Reynolds been more attentive of the allegations of sexual misconduct if they had involved “good seeds” or even his own children? We think his response would have been drastically different.
The State Bar of Texas website lists Reynolds as “eligible to practice in Texas” and there is no indication that an investigation has been launched to seek his disbarment in connection with his malfeasance in the TYC case. We, however, have selected Mr. Reynolds as eighth worst prosecutor in the United States in 2007 because of his lackadaisical approach to reliable accusations of sexual abuse of minors by the very individuals that are charged with caring for and setting an example for these misguided youths. It takes a really callous prosecutor to turn a blind eye in the face of these allegations, and for this reason, we have selected Reynolds as our number eight. We can say with confidence that Mr. Reynolds has truly earned his placement on our list of the Ten Worst Prosecutors in 2007.
NUMBER NINE WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS PONTOTOC CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY BILL PETERSON
Bill Peterson - Best known for the (botched) murder prosecution of Ronald Williamson, a former minor league baseball player from Ada, Oklahoma. In 1982, a 21-year old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the local police could not solve the crime. For some unknown reason, police had suspected that Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz were the culprits and, in 1987, both were arrested and charged with capital murder. Apparently, while Williamson was in jail for writing a bad check, a jailhouse snitch told prosecutors that Williamson had confessed to killing Carter, giving the police “probable cause” for an arrest. At trial, McDade presented testimonial evidence from Glen Gore, their main witness, that Carter had complained to a friend that Williamson "made her nervous," and also presented a microscopic hair analysis conducted on 17 hairs recovered from the crime scene which state experts insisted matched Fritz, Williamson, and Carter (the victim). In 1988, both men were convicted of first degree murder. Fritz received a life sentence. Williamson was sentenced to death.
Bill Peterson was quick to arrest and prosecute Williamson with weak evidence which eventually led to Williamson’s release from prison in 1999. After serving eleven years on death row, Williamson was finally freed after DNA evidence showed his innocence. The DNA results proved that the state experts had misidentified every single hair taken from the crime scene; none of them belonged to either of the two men. The DNA profile obtained from the crime scene, however, matched Glen Gore, the state's main witness at trial. At the time, Gore was serving three 40-year sentences for unrelated charges of first-degree burglary, kidnapping, and shooting with intent to injure. Both Williamson and Fritz filed a civil lawsuit accusing Bill Peterson and other defendants – including the city of Ada, the state of Oklahoma, Gore, and county police officers – of engineering “a false case that consisted of faulty forensic evidence, fictitious confessions reported by jailhouse snitches with overwhelming motives to lie, in addition to the self-serving lies of the actual murderer.” Williamson and Fritz settled the suit and both men received an undisclosed sum of money.
The rogue acts of prosecutor Peterson sparked best selling author, John Grisham to write his first non-fiction book about how poorly Peterson has handled the Williamson case titled “The Innocent Man, Murder and Injustice in a Small Town” (visit: www.randomhouse.com/features/grisham/main.php). Peterson is still the Pontotoc District Attorney and there is no evidence that he has ever been disciplined for his conduct in relation to the Williamson case. In our search for information we did, however, find a website set up by Peterson which catalogues the events of the Williamson trial and makes an attempt to point out follies in Grisham’s perspective and sources for the non-fiction novel (visit: www.billpetersondistrictattorney.com). For the accomplishment of having a well-known author capture your colossal screw-up in a best selling novel and for vigorously prosecuting a capital murder case on weak physical evidence and jailhouse informants, we have selected Prosecutor Bill Peterson as the ninth worst prosecutor in 2007.
NUMBER TEN WORST PROSECUTOR IN THE COUNTRY:
THE WINNER IS LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY ROCKY DELGADILLO
Rocky Delgadillo – The recently re-elected Harvard educated Los Angeles City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, is known best for prosecuting famed Paris Hilton and his hard stance against what he claims is a two-tiered judicial system where, “the rich and powerful receive special treatment.” In 2005, during the Fleishman-Hillard PR billing fraud scandal Delgadillo prosecuted Doug Dowie, a PR Executive, for allegedly padding billings to the city by a jaw-dropping $4.2 million. The Fleishman-Hillard case received national coverage and Delgadillo was applauded by the media for his tough stance on political corruption in City Hall. During this time, Rocky Delgadillo was portrayed as championing for the rights of all Angelinos and he appeared to be infalliable, but this time would be short-lived. Recently, investigators from the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and the State Bar of California have launched an inquiry into Delgadillo's misuse of city resources for personal benefit but his status is currently listed as “active” on the State Bar’s website.
The investigation comes after Delgadillo publicly admitted that he had allowed his wife, Michelle, to use a city-owned vehicle to drive to a doctor’s appointment which subsequently resulted in over $1,200 of damage while in her possession and which the city paid for. Only after government accountability advocates accused Delgadillo of misusing public funds did Rocky decide to reimburse the city for the expense. To make matters worst, Michelle was operating the vehicle on a suspended license and with a warrant out for her arrest for failing to appear in court nearly nine years earlier on charges of driving without insurance, with a suspended license, and in an unregistered car. Delgadillo also admitted that (unbeknownst to him) he had driven without auto insurance for about a year and that his wife had done so for about 2 years. Nevertheless, the misuse of pulic resources does not end here; Delgadillo is also under suspicion of having used public employees for his personal benefit on many occasions (e.g. baby sitting, running errands, handyman services, etc.). While citizens felt that Delgadillo’s role as City Attorney gave him a unique insight into the “two-tiered” judicial system he so preached about, many were surprised to find out that Rocky and his family were also receiving special treatment under this system.
Much like the Hollywood Rocky sagas, this Rocky wins in the end; however, in this instance, he’s won a spot on our infamous list of worst prosecutors in the United States in 2007. Delgadillo was selected as number 10 because his blunders pale in comparison to those of the other selections. Not to say that his actions are of lesser importance but Delgadillo only ruined his family’s and a City’s reputation, only lost the confidence of his constituents, and only ruined his own political career. In relation to the blunders of Gonzales, McEachern, and Nifong, Delgadillo’s mere misuse of public resources for his own personal gain appears as if his only reason for appearing on the list is for being dumb enough to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar (and then publicly confessing to it). But then again, we think that if Delgadillo were only given the opportunity to make a mistake on a grander scale he would be up for the challenge, and maybe then he could move himself up a couple of spots on the list. Hey, there’s always 2008…
The Bennett Law Firm’s (BLF) Attorneys have served in the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas. They consider themselves to be "good" prosecutors with experience in both state district attorneys offices and federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney's Office. The BLF holds the office of prosecutor in high regard and is intolerant of those individuals who engage in conduct which place all prosecutors (both federal and state) in public rebuke. Furthermore, the firm holds steadfast to the principle that prosecutors who are responsible for causing a miscarriage of justice should be held accountable through notoriety, recusal, and even disbarment. Attorney Robert S. “Bob” Bennett has been qualified as an expert on prosecutorial abuse and prosecutorial recusal, he has also published numerous articles and has been invited to give several speeches on the topic.
The BLF and the “Bad Prosecutor Blog” website are dedicated to maintaining high standards of professionalism in the practice of law and they chose to recognize the ten worst prosecutors in the United States in 2007 to bring about an open discussion of prevalent prosecutorial misconduct, and most importantly, to stress the importance of holding bad prosecutors accountable for their unlawful indiscretions. Prosecutorial misconduct ranges from hiding, destroying, or tampering with evidence, case files or court records; failing to disclose exculpatory evidence; using false or misleading evidence during trial; to improper behavior during grand jury proceedings. The BLF’s aim for “Ten Worst” list is to expose the harsh reality that bad prosecutors are not always disciplined for such misconduct and, in most cases, continue practicing law without ever facing repercussions for their unlawful misconduct. The BLF and the website strongly believe that the list will heighten public awareness and, in turn, help curb unjust prosecutions and deter future prosecutorial misconduct.
The “Bad Prosecutor Blog” website is currently researching and preparing next year’s list for the Ten Worst Prosecutor in the United States in 2008.