KANSAS CITY — Missouri county prosecutors are working together to improve their crime-fighting efforts by sharing best practices for obtaining convictions while also protecting people's rights.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys recently created committees to discuss several areas of criminal investigations.
"Contrary to what is seen on television, county prosecutors aren't about getting convictions at all costs," said Platte County Eric Zahnd, who is the group's immediate past president. "We care deeply about not only convicting the guilty but protecting the rights of everyone, including the criminal defendants."
The various subcommittees will look at such issues as how county prosecutors can better handle forensic evidence, eyewitness testimony, the use of jailhouse informants, recorded interrogations and how to pursue death penalty cases. Other subcommittees will offer recommendations on cases involving children, the elderly, drunken driving, child-support collection, domestic abuse and sex crimes, The Kansas City Star reported.
The effort was prompted in part by two recent criminal cases, Zahnd said.
In November, the Missouri attorney general's office decided not to retry 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson, who was released after serving nearly eight years in prison for the slaying of a Columbia newspaper sports editor. And in October, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was appointed special prosecutor to review sexual assault allegations in Maryville, after a public uproar occurred when Nodaway County prosecutors dismissed charges.
Zahnd also cited the case of Ali. M. Mahamud, who was convicted four years ago of second-degree murder after he stabbed and cut his victim 54 times and then dumped the body in a creek. The foreman later told Zahnd the jury might have returned a first-degree verdict if jurors had seen the defendant's entire police interrogation. Police videotaped only a portion of their interview with Mahamud.
That and other criminal cases prompted prosecutors to lobby state lawmakers to adopt a law that would require investigators to record entire interviews of suspects in dangerous crimes.
The practice of drawing blood from suspected drunken drivers and the use of DWI courts are examples of how prosecutors should share ideas to tackle certain crimes, said Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley, who leads the association's DWI and traffic-safety practices committee.
"If someone is doing something completely different that is better than what we are doing, then I am open to that," Hensley said. "That is our goal, and it ought to be the goal of all prosecutors across the state."