Change This Toxic Culture

Kevin Prince was released earlier this month after nearly a year and a half behind bars, awaiting trial for a murder he did not commit. He was put there by the uncorroborated word of a convicted robber who hoped to lighten his own sentence, and by a prosecutor who relied on it (Daily News, March 17).

Seventeen months were stolen from Kevin Prince. Many tens of thousands of dollars were spent holding this innocent man in jail and on his prosecution. That money could have hired a teacher for our public schools, could have fixed up a playground, could have paid for additional police training.

It’s not surprising that this happened. I tried a homicide case that came down to one eyewitness, an uninvolved neighbor, who testified repeatedly and under oath that the defendant could be the perpetrator. But the witness could not identify him and could not describe the chance that the defendant was the perpetrator by a percent, any percent — not 1%, not 10%, not 90%, not 100%.

Yet this District Attorney’s Office took the case to trial. Fortunately the jury acquitted, after the defendant was in jail over a year. His first stop on the way home was at his church.

There is a toxic culture in the District Attorney’s Office that prizes prosecution and conviction rates over promoting justice. That culture must change — not only to ensure fairness for defendants like Kevin Prince and justice for victims and their families, but also to stop spending taxpayers’ money to create injustice.

My fellow candidates for District Attorney are silent on this toxic culture of over-prosecution. After years of working within the system, none of them changed it sufficiently to prevent Kevin Prince from losing 17 months of his life. And yet they claim this experience qualifies them to bring about reform.

Real reform will require an outsider in this District Attorney’s Office.