Harris Co. DA publicly punishes prosecutors

March 27, 2009 3:36:56 PM PDT
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has pulled two of her prosecutors out of the courtroom. That comes after they recently struck seven African-Americans from a jury pool during a recent murder trial of a black defendant. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

"The community needs to be assured that we will maintain the rule of law," said Lykos.

In order to provide that assurance, Lykos punished those two prosecutors. She says they acted unprofessionally when they struck 7 blacks from a jury pool in Ricky Whitfield's murder trial.

"There's no doubt in my mind that these prosecutors are not racist," said Lykos. "They thought they were doing the right thing."

Still, Lykos thinks they weren't doing their jobs correctly. For that, both were docked pay and removed from trial work.

"Part of the fault lies with this office and its previous lack of training," said Lykos.

Assistant DA Mike Donnelly, who's Latin-American, could not be reached for comment, nor could his co-counsel, Rifian Newaz, who is South Asian.

Though Lykos doesn't believe race drove prosecutors to strike all the blacks, the defense lawyer representing Whitfield has her doubts.

"I was shocked," said defense attorney Jacquelyn Carpenter. "The first thing was just shock."

Carpenter couldn't believe Donnelly and Newaz used 7 of their ten strikes to eliminate blacks.

"They had no reason to strike them, but for my opinion, race," she said. "And that's why I made the objection."

Judge Jannine Barr sustained the objection and dismissed the jury. Meanwhile, several current and former prosecutors are dismissing Lykos' decision to punish and criticize two of her employees so publicly.

"What their boss did to them shows a lack of leadership and it shows that she doesn't care about justice," said former prosecutor Paul Doyle. "What she cares about is getting her name in the paper for political purposes."

Both prosecutors who were disciplined are well-respected within the DA's office and by defense lawyers. Lykos says she's handling this publicly because she promised transparency during her campaign.

The Whitfield murder trial has been rescheduled for June.

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