For all the misbehaving public officials we spotlight on this site, it’s worth giving some praise to those who get it right. Oklahoma County, Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater is one of them.
Two Oklahoma prosecutors have been fired for allegedly withholding evidence favorable to the defense in a recent first-degree murder trial.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said assistant district attorneys Pam Kimbrough and Stephanie Miller did not turn over to the defense a statement by a witness in a case that was inconsistent with what the witness had previously told police. He fired them April 5, the Oklahoman reported.
Prater has also forwarded information from his investigation into the matter to the state attorney general’s office for possible criminal investigation. And he has sent similar information to the Oklahoma Bar Association for possible disciplinary action.
“Though I am heartbroken over their loss to this office, my decision to terminate [the two prosecutors] was an an easy decision to make,” Prater said in a written statement about the firings. “The gravity of their alleged ethical violation is so great that only one punishment equals their transgression.”
Kimbrough and Miller prosecuted the case against Billy H. Thompson, 25, who was convicted of first-degree murder last month in the 2010 stabbing death of a a 21-year-old man outside of Thompson’s Oklahoma City home.
Prosecutors alleged that Thompson had punched a man in a wheelchair in a fight over a cigar during a night of heavy drinking and then stabbed two men, including the victim, when they tried to intervene.
The two prosecutors allegedly withheld from the defense a statement by the man in the wheelchair that was “materially inconsistent” with his original statement to police about where the stabbings took place.
Kudos to Prater for not only firing his subordinates, but turning them over possible prosecution. I know Dallas County, Texas DA Craig Watson has called for criminal prosecutions for Brady violations. It was considered controversial when he did. Given the stakes, I’m not sure why it would be.
One reform that could get around some of these problems would be for states to adopt an “open file” policy. That would remove from prosecutors the discretion to determine what evidence is and isn’t exculpatory—they’d have to turn all of it over. But that sort of policy would need to come with some teeth.