Criminal Justice

Highly Respected Prosecutor Hides Exculpating Evidence, Man Spends 24 Years in Jail for No Reason

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As a further reminder that government officials involved with enforcing the law can't be relied on to serve citizens' interest scupulously—see my post below about how a St. Louis, Missouri, police attorney used terminological differences to stymie a sunshine law request—see this very good ProPublica investigative profile by Joaquin Sapien on a supposedly excellent and highly ethical government prosecutor in New York, James Leeper.

A case Leeper prosecuted back in 1990 recently saw the convicted, Jonathan Fleming, exonerated and released—after 24 years in jail.

Here's some of the details that Leeper helped hide in the original prosecution:

The original case file from 1990 contained a time-stamped receipt showing that Fleming had paid an Orlando hotel phone bill just hours before Rush's murder. The file also contained a letter from the Orlando Police Department informing Brooklyn detectives that Fleming had been seen at the hotel around the time of the killing. By law, Leeper was obligated to turn that material over to Fleming's lawyer. But he had disclosed none of it.

Is this sort of act the result of a lone wolf bad apple with no implications for how American justice works? Maybe not:

"[Leeper] was universally thought of as a model prosecutor," said Dan Saunders, now a Queens Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney, who once worked with Leeper in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. "You'll hear that from everybody. He was a trustworthy and reliable guy. The kind of guy you want to entrust with the difficult work of being a government prosecutor. I hope people say something like that about me one day."

To date, the district attorney's office has said nothing about the Fleming case, other than to acknowledge that its Conviction Integrity Unit had discovered the receipt and additional evidence in recent months. The office offered no explanation for how or why the evidence had remained buried for so long, and, with respect to Leeper's role in the case, has said only that it is "under review."