Sunday, June 19, 2016

Detroit News says Kym Worthy Should Be Held Accountable—They’ve Got That Right

There’s plenty to criticize regarding Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, yet few ever do. She’s black. She’s female. She has mastered the art of pretending to be a champion of justice, a defender of law and order. Who could want more than a black woman who likes to say “facts matter,” except when they are inconvenient? The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office makes mistakes—a lot of them. Good luck getting Kym Worthy to admit it. Someone—meaning the voters of Wayne County—needs to demand that she seek the truth in all cases—not just when it suits her.

Kym Worthy was big news all across the country recently. She was on the network nightly news. She was on the front page in more than a few national newspapers. But not in a good way. She was portrayed—accurately—as a stubborn, unprofessional prosecutor who let a man who was sent to prison when he was a teen, rot in jail for murders he did not commit.

Davontae Sanford: Another victim of justice, Kym Worthy-style.

Davontae Sanford was 14 when he was arrested, 15 when he was convicted by Kym Worthy’s office on charges he committed a quadruple homicide in a drug house in 2007. He received a 37-to-90-year sentence. He’s a young man now, but still small. He’s blind in one eye. Someone hit him in the eye with an egg when he was nine.

Two weeks—TWO WEEKS—after the teen was sent to prison, a professional hitman named Vincent Smothers confessed to the murders. Smothers, who has committed numerous murders, is in prison. But even a convicted hitman can sometimes do the right thing.  Smothers signed a sworn affidavit stating he was the killer, not Devontae Sanford.

Convicted hitman Vincent Smothers-he confessed he committed the murders Davontae Sanford was wrongly convicted for, but Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy refused to listen--for years. (Photo: Brandy Baker, Detroit News)

Smothers didn’t just confess once. He said often over the years that it was he, not Devontae Sanford, who murdered the four people. Kym Worthy did nothing with the information. To do so would be to admit her office and the Detroit Police had made a mistake. A very big mistake.

It wasn’t until a team of lawyers from Dykema, Gossett, a large Detroit law firm, working pro bono (for free), the Northwestern Center for the Wrongful Convictions of Youth and the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office took up the Sanford case that Prosecutor Worthy was motivated to ask the State Police to take a second look at the case. It wasn’t long before the State Police found perjury on the part of a key police prosecution witness—yet the haughty and prideful Kym Worthy would not admit her office and the Detroit Police bungled an essentially life-sentence murder case.

The flaw in the Devontae Sanford case is the same as it is in the Rick Wershe life-sentence drug case: perjury—lying—by the Detroit Police. In both cases Kym Worthy steadfastly refused to believe her witnesses could be lying. They were.

In the Sanford case the lying on the witness stand wasn’t just by some stumble-bum alcoholic narc. It was a Deputy Chief of Police: James Tolbert. When the Michigan State Police did the due diligence Kym Worthy’s office should have done, they found Tolbert couldn’t keep his story straight. Tolbert went on to become the Chief of Police in Flint, Michigan for a while. He was fired from his job as police chief without explanation this past winter.

Former Detroit Police Deputy Chief, former Flint, Michigan Police Chief (Flint Journal file photo)

What makes matters worse, Sanford’s defense attorney, Robert Slameka, has been censured 17 times by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board for improperly representing his clients.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan vacated Sanford’s sentence and Kym Worthy magnanimously announced she would dismiss all charges against this innocent young man and not re-try him. How nice. How generous. How just.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy - she cannot and will not admit mistakes, even when they destroy lives unjustly. (Detroit News photo, Clarence Tabb, Jr.)

Worthy’s attitude in the Sanford case is disturbingly similar to her circle-the-wagons stand in the Rick Wershe drug case, where the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office allowed and encouraged distortions, misleading information and outright lies about his role in Detroit’s drug underworld to go unchallenged or corrected. To this day she will not summon the integrity to ask for a finding of facts in the Wershe case by an independent investigation. Independent means just that; an inquiry not linked to the police/prosecution axis in Michigan’s criminal justice system.

This woman has a serious character flaw that impacts thousands of people and it’s about time the voters called her out on it. She cannot admit a mistake. She will not correct a mistake unless forced to do so by the courts.

Her claim in a press conference last year that “facts matter” is so much bullshit. They only matter when she, and she alone, decides they matter. She arrogates to herself the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury and decider of paroles. If you think she doesn’t consider herself the decider of paroles, just look at how hard she’s fighting to keep Rick Wershe in jail when every single one of Michigan’s other juveniles sentenced to life for a non-violent drug crime have been set free; except Rick Wershe.

She answers to no one, least of all the voters and citizens of Wayne County. If she and her staff screw up, she isn’t held accountable. There’s no penalty. Michigan law, and the law in most states, gives county prosecutors a free pass to be malicious, reckless and/or incompetent. Nothing will happen to them. Nothing will happen to Kym Worthy unless the voters kick her out of office. Fat chance.

There needs to be a personal penalty for her repeated malfeasance in the administration of criminal justice and it needs to be a big one. Perhaps a penalty that hits her in her law license, or her personal pocketbook. If her law license was suspended for, say, six months, maybe that would accomplish both penalties. If she can’t perform her elected duties due to legal sanctions, it’s only fair that she forego her salary for those six months. Let someone else run her office.That way she cannot muck up the criminal justice system for six months.

In an editorial about the outrageous Sanford case the Detroit News said of Kym Worthy "...her office has much to answer for...including ignoring the repeated attempts by convicted hit man Vincent Smothers to take responsibility for the murders, and not recognizing the flimsiness of the evidence against Sanford.”

Well, yes and no. By focusing on “her office” that would let Kym Worthy weasel out of responsibility and blame underlings. This has to stop. She’s the one who sits in the big chair in the big office. She loves to take the credit when it’s to her benefit. If things go wrong, as they did in the Sanders case and the Wershe case, she’s quick to shift the blame to someone else. Or dig in her heels and resist all efforts to right a serious wrong.

The Detroit News editorial also misses the mark by suggesting an “independent examination” of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, “perhaps by Attorney General Bill Schuette.”

Bill Schuette? Oh, please.

Schuette’s office is on record fighting Wershe’s potential parole because he supposedly had a federal conviction for possession of gun silencers. Trouble is, they had the wrong Wershe when they cited the case to a federal judge in Grand Rapids in Wershe’s civil suit claiming his rights have been violated by no meaningful opportunity for parole.

A truly independent examination of Worthy’s stewardship of her position as prosecutor would best be served by asking a retired federal judge to conduct a thorough review. Ideally it should be a federal judge from another state, one who has not come up through the politically incestuous Michigan criminal justice system.

The chances of that happening are slim and none. I can hear it now. I’m a cranky old white reporter picking on Kym Worthy because she’s a) black, b) female or c) both of these tired old dodges.

So let’s make this call for action gender and race neutral. Let’s say there needs to be a thorough, truly independent review of potential misconduct, malfeasance and possible civil rights violations by the Wayne County prosecutor. Leave color and gender out of it. Justice is justice, regardless of those things.

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