From my LEAP colleagues – I am a member of their Speakers Bureau :
Leading up to Election Day, LEAP speakers played a major role in criminal justice and drug policy reform efforts across the country, and yesterday, our hard work paid off!
Keep law enforcement speaking out for reform
Five key state campaigns successfully spoke out for more rational and effective policies with LEAP’s help:
• Florida: Amendment 4 passed, meaning more than one million people who have served their time for felony convictions will have their right to vote restored.
• Louisiana: Amendment 2 passed, ending non-unanimous juries in felony trials, a practice established under Jim Crow to maintain white supremacy in the state.
• Michigan: Prop 1 passed, legalizing and regulating adult use of marijuana.
• Oregon: Measure 105 was successfully defeated, blocking a repeal of laws protecting local police from being compelled to enforce federal immigration policies.
• Washington: Initiative 940 passed, requiring law enforcement to receive de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training; and to change standards for use of deadly force, adding “good faith” and independent investigation standards similar to those other states have successfully implemented.
Our speakers made more than 30 appearances in key states leading up to Election Day, giving interviews and live presentations, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, appearing in campaign ads, and serving as the law enforcement voice for reform. LEAP was instrumental in getting these measures across the finish line. We are so proud of our speakers’ tireless efforts and outstanding impact.
There’s still work to be done. Ohio’s Issue 1, which aimed to downgrade many nonviolent drug felonies to misdemeanors and bring a focus to rehabilitation and treatment, was defeated, as was North Dakota’s Prop 3, which aimed to legalize marijuana for adult use and expunge marijuana convictions. Though we’re disappointed in the outcomes in those states, we know that we’ve made significant progress. Our fight will continue, stronger than ever, and we will see real change, even in the places where we’ve struggled hardest. Especially in those places, because that’s where change is most needed. That’s where LEAP is most needed.
Thank you for being a part of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Ken. Supporters like you help get our speakers where they need to be, get our message to the masses, and – most importantly – drive our speakers and staff to keep working toward real, tangible change to our criminal justice and drug policies. Our collective public safety depends on it, so you can count on LEAP to keep things moving in the right direction.
Major Neill Franklin (Ret.)
Good. They need prison time every time! The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Bodnar, Jr. God Bless him! READ How to avoid the deaths of prison guards and inmates
For every crooked guard like this one, there are 1,000 who get away with it every day!
Excerpts from the Article:
Fohittemore accepted his guilty plea for taking a bribe as a public official.rmer FCC Coleman guard Albert Larry Harris, Jr., 27, was sentenced to 24 months in prison on February 15, 2018 after Senior U.S. District Court Judge James D. W
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Ocala, Florida, Harris provided tobacco and drugs to prisoners in exchange for large cash payments. He was arrested after he accepted a $5,000 bribe and 200 strips of Suboxone, a medication prescribed for opiate addiction and withdrawal, as well as for pain.
The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General and the FBI, was initiated after three prisoners reported Harris’ misconduct. One of the prisoners set up a “drug deal” between Harris and an undercover agent; another reported that Harris had approached him in an attempt to locate a cocaine dealer. Authorities also traced money orders that Harris received in contraband transactions with other prisoners.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Bodnar, Jr.
Family of 18-year-old who died in Lebanon County Prison awarded $4.75 million in settlement – YOUR tax money! – kra
Four Points for Outrage in this short article:
- Her death was preventable, had the prison health care staff only done what they are required by law to do: provide reasonable care.
- This cost YOU at least $5 Million, maybe closer to $6 million. The way these cases work, YOU pay for all of the litigation, all the lawyers, the judge, etc…. CALL me and I’ll be glad to explain. $5 Million is a drop in the bucket of money wasted in cases just like this one every year! My number is 302-423-4067
- Nobody was prosecuted for this death, as they should have been under 18 USCA Sections 242 and 242. And nobody admitted wrongdoing.
- The prison LIED to try to cover up the truth, as they often do!
UPDATED with this:
Left to DIE
Left to die on the cold cell floor,
Though many a guard had walked past her door,
They looked in, saw the foam in her mouth, and kept on walking,
As all the inmates heard them talking,
“She’s just another fucking junkie”, one would say,
“Yeah, let’s get some coffee”, the other replied, on that, her last day.
She died around noon, and the jail labeled it “natural causes”,
As they so often lie in their “official” reports, the sentences and clauses,
Another casualty of extreme medical neglect in prisons and jails,
Just yesterday I got another call about a similar tale,
So here I sit long before the sun pops up,
And soon I shall send that inmate’s Mom an email follow-up,
Telling her exactly what to do,
So that he may not be … Left to DIE.
DEAD! An addict who needed treatment, not prison, and who could have been YOUR daughter, sister, niece, etc.
Excerpts from the Article:
The family of an 18-year-old woman who died while going through heroin withdrawal in Lebanon County Prison will be awarded $4.75 million after settling their civil and wrongful death lawsuits against Lebanon County this month, court documents show.
Victoria “Tori” Herr collapsed and died after suffering from withdrawal symptoms for four days while she was an inmate. She was arrested in March of 2015 after police who were looking for her boyfriend found drugs in the apartment she shared with him. Herr allegedly told the intake staff at the prison that she used 10 bags of heroin a day, and later told a cellmate she was afraid her withdrawal process would be difficult.
The lawsuit accused staffers at the prison of ignoring her medical needs for days, and then lying about it after she died.
Herr went through bouts of vomiting and diarrhea over four days. She was given Erasure, water and adult diapers, the lawsuit alleges. But Herr was unable to keep the fluids down and collapsed of an apparent case of dehydration while being brought back to her cell after a stay in the prison’s infirmary on March 31, the lawsuit says.
She died on April 5. Her death was ruled accidental by the Lebanon County Coroner’s Office. Cause of death was listed as complications of chronic substance abuse and anorexia. Herr’s family sued the county in 2016.
Settlement of the family’s lawsuit was finalized on October 5, court documents show. No Lebanon County employees acknowledged any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The Whole Story:
See related articles on jury nullification. YOU, as a juror, have the power to provide justice where the law is unjust! In today’s wildly dysfunctional criminal justice system everyone should be aware of this! Your DUTY is to do JUSTICE!
Excerpts from the Article:
There’s not a single person that has to go to prison in the USA for growing, selling, using, or possessing marijuana. But 21 states still prohibit marijuana use, cultivation, or sale in any form, even for medical use. Everything cannabis related is still illegal at the federal level. As a schedule 1, highly illegal drug, marijuana is considered just as dangerous and addictive as heroin. Yet PEW Research says 62% of Americans nationwide support marijuana legalization. So it is reasonable to think that about 7 or 8 people on any randomly selected 12 person jury disagree with laws criminalizing marijuana. And those people have the power to deliver a not guilty verdict, based on their belief that marijuana laws are unjust.This is one example of how jury nullification can be used to erase or nullify, bad laws.
In the United States, all accused criminals have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers.
Adults from the area where an alleged crime was committed are chosen to hear the court case. They have to weigh the evidence. And if they have any reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime, they are supposed to deliver a not guilty verdict. But not everyone knows that juries can also deliver a not guilty verdict when they disagree with the law. So say all the evidence clearly shows that, for example, a veteran was growing marijuana to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As a juror, you do NOT have to deliver a guilty verdict, even if you are 100% sure he committed the “crime.” Instead, you can disagree that it should be criminal at all, and say not guilty. Unfortunately, defense attorneys are often not allowed to argue in court for jury nullification. The judge can force them to only argue the facts of the case. They usually cannot suggest that the jury find the defendant not guilty because the law is unjust.
Some states, like New Hampshire and Oregon, have tried to pass laws requiring courts to inform juries of their right to nullify. New Hampshire’s bill would require courts to inform juries that even if the facts point clearly to guilt, “you may still find that based upon the facts of this case a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.”
Of course, prosecutors will do everything possible to give the impression that the jury must decide the case based on the facts, and a strict reading of the law.
In the 1969 Court Case United States v. Moylan acknowledged that juries have an “undisputed power” to acquit, even if that verdict “is contrary to the law as given by the judge, and contrary to the evidence.”
Because of this “mistake” on the part of prosecutors, the man will get a new trial on federal drug charges. But that doesn’t mean the jury will necessarily know that they have the power to nullify the bad laws he is being prosecuted under. United States v. Moylan also said that the court can refuse to allow the jury to be instructed on jury nullification.
Thomas Jefferson gave another good reason to use jury nullification. He said juries should deliver a not guilty verdict if the defendant’s case “relates to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias.” In other words, if the defendant was simply exercising a basic freedom that didn’t hurt anyone, he should be found not guilty. It doesn’t matter if he broke the law, freedom is more important.
And then he adds, if you suspect a biased judge, you should also rule not guilty.
And consider the history of racism in the justice system dating back to when slavery was legal in the south.
Even then, northern juries used jury nullification for laws relating to slavery. For instance, the Fugitive Slave Act compelled northerners to help return runaway slaves to the south. Juries could use nullification to declare northerners who violated this act not guilty.
There are countless instances in today’s courts where jury nullification would be appropriate. It just depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case.
Victimless crimes are violations of the law that don’t actually hurt anyone. If you can’t point to a victim, it means no one was actually hurt by the criminal actions. That is why possession of drugs is a victimless crime–having drugs in your pocket doesn’t actually victimize anyone. The same goes for laws criminalizing sex acts between consenting adults, code violations, or failing to get a business license.
It is better to let guilty people walk free than to send an innocent person to prison. If the evidence rests solely on inherently fallible witnesses, or if there is any reason to believe the witnesses, prosecution, or court is corrupt, you should consider jury nullification.
Jury nullification needs to go mainstream. Every juror walking into a courtroom should know that they have the power to deliver a not guilty verdict if they disagree with the law that was violated, or suspect corruption from the police, prosecutors, or judges. Tell everyone you know, especially when they get called for jury duty.
The Whole Story:
I enjoyed 5 years as a prosecutor, and I am appalled by so many of today’s prosecutors. They are the most powerful component of our criminal justice system, and so many lack common sense and an understanding of “fairness”. Maybe that’s why so many results in today’s courts make little sense and are unfair.
I have written on all of the ills mentioned by professor Kelly: stacking charges, rush to sentence, etc. I am surprised that he does not mention ending the war on drugs as one needed measure. But he does offer a very sensible change: plea mediators. Independent third parties to temper the worst instincts of prosecutors.
Excerpts from the Article:
In a series of recent interviews, prosecutors were asked what role they believe they play in reducing recidivism.
The most common answers:
“Not my job.”
And the few who said they did have a role indicated that harsher punishment was the way to lower recidivism.
The interviews, conducted for a forthcoming book I co-authored with Robert Pitman, “Confronting Underground Justice, ” make one thing painfully clear: We need to change the thinking of prosecutors regarding the roles they can and should play if we want to fix our broken justice system.
We have spent upwards of $1 trillion dollars over the past 45 years in direct criminal justice costs and another $1 trillion on the war on drugs—an investment that has resulted in recidivism rates of nearly 85 percent for state offenders and nearly 45 percent for federal inmates.
I don’t see how anyone can spin that into a positive. There’s a clear consensus that the U.S. justice system is a massive failure.
Focusing on changing the culture of prosecutors is one way to turn this thing around.
The prosecutor is the most influential individual in the justice system. He or she is the key player in plea negotiation—the way that over 95 percent of criminal convictions are achieved.
The combination of broad prosecutorial discretion and plea negotiation effectively makes prosecutors the judge, jury and sentencer in most criminal prosecutions. Prosecutors determine who to prosecute, what to charge, who is guilty and of what—and they are instrumental in determining the sentence, either directly (through sentence bargaining) or indirectly (through charge bargaining).
While plea negotiation was developed as a way to manage crushing caseloads and dockets, it has become the fast track to criminal conviction and punishment. Punishment is the currency of the plea deal. Time in prison, jail or on probation is what is negotiated. Punishment is what prosecutors know and therefore that is what is delivered.
Punishment does little to reduce crime and recidivism.
The problem is that punishment does little to reduce crime and recidivism.
The majority of individuals who enter the justice system have a mental health problem, a substance abuse problem, a neurodevelopmental and/or neurocognitive problem, and often co-morbidities of all three, as well as serious problems with employment, housing, and education, among others.
Punishment does little to alter any of these circumstances and conditions. In many cases, it exacerbates them.
Prosecutors are lawyers. They are not psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists or clinical social workers. However, since they are the pivotal decision makers, it is important to help them make better decisions, in turn, improving short term and longer-term outcomes.
Therefore, true criminal justice reform must encompass providing ways in which prosecutors can make better decisions that have recidivism reduction as a primary consideration. In a previous book (“From Retribution to Public Safety”), we developed the concept of independent panels of experts—psychiatrists, psychologists and neurologists who can clinically screen and assess offenders when they enter the system, and then advise prosecutors regarding the best path forward for recidivism reduction and risk management.
Recidivism reduction involves intervention/treatment; and risk management requires supervision and control.
We tested this concept with the prosecutors we interviewed. They nearly universally embraced the idea, as did the public defenders and judges whom we interviewed.
Plea negotiation also raises serious concerns about fairness, criminal procedure and due process. Examples include the risk of involuntary confessions (often the result of charge stacking, threats of greater punishment, and pre-trial detention), ambiguous standards of proof for conviction, limited discovery, not litigating the evidence, not considering criminal intent, and many more.
How do we mitigate these concerns and assure fairness?
Having defense counsel present is a very important step, but we need to appreciate that public defenders do not have the luxury of time and reasonable caseloads. We have plea negotiation because it meets the needs of prosecutors, judges and defense counsel to move cases.
We believe that a plea mediator, a neutral, independent third party similar to the mediator role in civil litigation, can serve to level the playing field, bring the process above ground, and assure that plea negotiation meets constitutional standards. One of the ironies is that our failure to effectively reduce recidivism is the main reason dockets and caseloads are so extraordinarily high, and why we rely so heavily on plea negotiation.
Until prosecutors embrace recidivism reduction as one of their primary responsibilities, and until we provide prosecutors with expert tools to make better, fairer decisions, efforts at meaningful justice reform will fail.
William R. Kelly is professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of four books on criminal justice reform, including From Retribution to Public Safety: Disruptive Innovation of American Criminal Justice ( Rowman and Littlefield, 2017), and Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform (Rowman and Littlefield, forthcoming, October 29, 2018).He welcomes comments from readers.
The Whole Story:
Report focuses on ‘lasting harm’ of incarcerating mothers prior to trial in Oklahoma It states pretrial detention can ‘snowball into neverending family separation’
The harm is incalculable. I have written at least a dozen articles on the senseless societal damage caused by our mass incarceration policies. Did you know that black females are the fastest growing segment of our prison population?!
This article highlights that all is often lost in pretrial detention situations – cases where nobody has been convicted and often charges are dropped. Dropped … gone … but too late for Mom and family!
The perils of pretrial incarceration practices in Oklahoma are spotlighted again in a report that specifically zeroes in on the “devastating” consequences of keeping mothers from their adolescent children.
Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday released a 121-page report on “the lasting harm of jailing mothers before trial in Oklahoma.” The report states that women are the fastest growing correctional population in the U.S., and since the 1990s, Oklahoma has incarcerated more women per capita than any other state.
The majority of women admitted to jails are accused of minor crimes, with pretrial detention that can “snowball into never-ending family separation as mothers navigate court systems,” according to the report. After obtaining release, fines, fees and costs stack up and potentially impede a mother’s ability to regain personal footing and custody of her kids.
Nationally, nearly 80 percent of women in jails have minor children.
“This report finds that jailed mothers often feel an added, and unique, pressure to plead guilty so that they can return home to parent their children and resume their lives,” the report states. “These mothers face difficulties keeping in touch with their children due to restrictive jail visitation policies and costly telephone and video calls. Some risk losing custody of their children because they are not informed of, or transported to, key custody proceedings.”
Notably at the local level, the report found that more than 400 women in 2016 and 2017 were booked into the Tulsa County jail who ultimately had their cases dismissed. Their average length of stay was 21 days, with a median of nine days.
“Even a few days in jail can lead to someone losing employment, not seeing or speaking to their kids or losing personal belongings,” said Jasmine Sankofa, author of the report. Sankofa said interviewers spoke with one mom who lost all of her belongings because she had been living out of a motel when she was put in jail.
National studies show children of incarcerated parents are more likely to have poor peer relationships and exhibit emotional and psychological problems, as well as behaviors such as aggression, hostility, eating disorders and self-harm, the report states. School-aged children also often have poorer grades and higher suspension and dropout rates.
Significant shame transfers to children, and they often don’t understand why their parent is away, according to the report. The instability at home seeps into school, with students who are bullied, unable to focus and feel their parents don’t love them.
One of hundreds of poems I wrote in prison – usually first thing when I awoke, one would pop out, just to be sure my brain was still working after another day in isolation! 🙁 “Thank you, God, for my strong spirit!” 🙂
Rise and Shine!
Rise and shine .. get going… there’s a ton of work to do!
For the criminal justice system has hundreds of people to screw,
And it will .. today … as sure as I sit in this chair,
With crazy sentences, or unjust convictions, causing much despair,
Even worse will be the prison abuse, causing some to pull out their hair,
When they file all the proper legal work, only to see that the judge doesn’t care,
Only to see that the judge will ignore the law, to make the case go away,
Oh, you better believe it is happening in our courts … every single day!
And, by God, when my book is done I shall proudly name names,
There are so many officials to rightly share the blame,
But for now I must focus on getting the job done,
Spreading vital information, and helping people one on one,
There is much more trauma and injustice in store today,
Hundreds will find incredible unfairness coming straight their way,
And the system’s so overloaded by the “war on drugs”, I know,
That even their lawyers will be struck by the system, but the client takes the blow,
It is all so manifestly unfair, in this land where we say “justice for all”,
So get up, get going, hold some wrongdoers accountable, right against the wall!
And, oh yes, today is the first day of Fall,
But, I assure you, you don’t notice it much, when unfairly in a 13’x8′ prison stall.
CALL ME – MY EXPERIENCE
FOLKS – this means YOU! If you know anyone with a criminal justice question, a legal question, tell them to CALL me!!! Not a bunch of type type type… CALL 302-423-4067. I work every day from about 3 or 4 a m until 8 or 10 pm. I hate to toot my own horn but the FACT is I am able to help most (over 95%) of those who call. Not because I am a friggin’ genius, but because there are few people on this planet (any??) with the experience I have*! Just tell them to CALL me!!
Jeez!! I get too many calls from people who have called several idiot lawyers or all the wrong people! The right people? Someone who can actually SOLVE THE PROBLEM!
*And what is my experience? Here are a few highlights Law Clerk to Supreme Court of Delaware, Deputy Attorney General, Defense Counsel and General Law Practitioner, student of the criminal justice system for the past twelve years (think about that- all of law school is 3 years; I have been immersed in learning all about the criminal justice system problems/solutions for twelve years now. and that is in addition to the ten years when I was practicing full-time!), Addict, Prisoner, Member of Rotary International, Entrepreneur (owned and built several very successful businesses), President of Legal Aid, Founder and President of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE, Inc., Business Broker (Broker’s Real Estate license in Florida), Professor – teaching law courses at 4 different colleges, homeless person and counselor to thousands.
There is no charge to talk to me and pick my brain. CALL 302-423-4067.
I have won more than 700 trials (lost 2), have gotten many people out of prison early, prevented many, many more from ever going to prison … I HATE to “toot my own horn”, but what are you waiting for?? CALL ME! Everything I do is free, unless it is a ton of work!READ: Practical Tip – There is ONE way to win – Be Prepared!
All of law school is three years; where we are taught contracts, wills and estates, torts, evidence, and about a dozen other subjects. While in prison I spent four years doing nothing but studying criminal justice issues for 18 hours a day, every day, from B4 the sun rose until after it set [the lights are on 24/7 in those isolation cells!] , and I have been IMMERSED in all such issues for nearly thirteen years now! With the work I do now, I have been getting hundreds of articles every month concerning all sorts of criminal justice issues, some of which I put here on this website and in my Newsletter. ! Think about it!!
Kentucky Supreme Court Tosses Evidence Holding Dog Sniff of Nervous Driver with Prior Drug Charges was Unreasonable. It was the addition of the dog which made the search unlawful – kra
Good, because countless Black Americans are nervous when stopped by a cop. Legally, this was a sound decision, but any racist judge could have ruled the other way. Was the lower court judge racist? It is Kentucky!
Excerpts from the Article:
The Supreme Court of Kentucky held that a drug-dog sniff based on the nervousness of the driver who had prior drug charges (but not convictions) was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, requiring suppression of the evidence found in the search.
“This opinion is not for Rakim Moberly,” the Court made clear. “We render this opinion for the untold numbers of innocent Kentucky citizens who have ‘criminal charges’ and may become nervous and sweaty and look around when confronted by police.”
Moberly, who was convicted of drug and gun possession after a 3 a.m. traffic stop, appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence obtained after the police called in a drug dog based on Moberly’s nervous appearance and his prior drug charges. Moberly argued on appeal that the dog sniff was not reasonably connected to the legitimate traffic stop for not having a valid registration. The Commonwealth argued that his nervous behavior allowed the police to further detain Moberly and search his vehicle. Ultimately, the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed with Moberly and tossed the evidence.
In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment tolerates certain investigation during a traffic stop that are unrelated to the stop, as long as they do not lengthen the detention. Police may, for example, delay a stop briefly to check for warrants or to ensure their safety—activities that are directly connected to the stop itself. But “any prolonging of the stop beyond its original purpose is unreasonable and unjustified,” the Rodriguez Court said.
Here, the dog sniff added about 45 minutes to the traffic stop and was started without delay. The question, though, was not whether the delay made the stop unreasonable, but whether the addition of the dog sniff to the routine stop was reasonable. “The question is whether the officer had a reasonable articulable suspicion of other ongoing illegal activity when he prolonged the stop” for the dog sniff, the Court instructed.
The Court found that Moberly’s nervous actions were not enough to support reasonable suspicion for a dog sniff search. Further, “mere charges do not constitute a ‘criminal history’ upon which one might reasonably suspect future criminal behavior,” the Court noted. “That Appellant had been previously charged with trafficking in marijuana and carrying a concealed deadly weapon, the officer had not reasonable suspicion to believe that Appellant was then and there engaged in criminal activity beyond the traffic offenses.”
Citizens “have the right to live their lives unfettered by police having no reasonable articulable suspicion to interfere,” the Court said, and that the Commonwealth’s position otherwise “is tantamount to a rule that says those citizens have no Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures. We reject that position.”
Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. See: Moberly v. Commonwealth, 551 S.W.3d 26 (Ky. 2018).
The most dramatic example of how totally fucked up out criminal justice system has become is that we are convicting hundreds of innocent people every year. See related articles for how it got this way, much more on this issue, and all the causes of wrongful convictions. Several states, thank God, now have CIUs , usually within the office of the prosecutor= Conviction Integrity Unit.
I was a prosecutor for 5 years, and from day one it was clear to me that my job was to produce justice…. any doubt about guilt, I dropped the charges. Today a prosecutor needs the approval of “higher up” idiots in the office in order to drop charges. There is ZERO chance that I convicted an innocent person. Too many idiot prosecutors today think their job is just to convict!
Newly appointed New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has directed his prosecutors to take over an investigation into the 1993 murder conviction of two men who might be innocent. He also formed a panel to consider whether New Jersey should establish a “conviction review unit” to look at claims of possible wrongful conviction.
Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee were originally convicted of the 1993 murder of a Patterson, New Jersey, video store clerk. Prosecutors alleged that the men beat and stabbed 22-year-old Tito Merino to death during a robbery of the video store. Kelley and Lee confessed to the crime but recanted shortly thereafter.
According to a report from NJ Advance Media, a key piece of evidence was a baseball cap found at the scene. Investigators initially believed that it belonged to the killer. DNA evidence tested in 2014 ruled out Kelley and Lee as the hat’s owner, and the DNA instead pointed to a local man who had just finished a prison sentence for knifepoint robbery that took place a few weeks before Merino’s murder.
The Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries raised questions about the case, and a judge ultimately tossed the convictions. But the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office still believed that Kelley and Lee committed the crime and fought to keep them locked up. Prosecutors finally dropped the case after losing an appeal in early 2018.
Grewal said that while he has confidence in Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes, a state-level formal inquiry was necessary. “We’re going to supersede the investigation … to ensure public confidence in light of the criticism that has been leveled and the coverage of the matter,” he said.
In addition to taking over the investigation, Grewal hired former New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali to look into how county prosecutors handled the case.
Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at The Innocence Project, said Grewal did the right thing. “This move kind of exemplifies exactly the job of the prosecutor: to ensure that justice is done, and not just to maintain convictions,” she said.
Grewal also convened a panel, headed by retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long, to determine whether the state should establish a conviction integrity unit. He said the review “was something that we were working on since January , but it’s something that’s been hastened by this matter of Ralph Lee and Eric Kelley.”