In a stunning turn of events, a murder suspect potentially facing a maximum 25-years-to-life sentence was allowed instead to plead guilty to attempted burglary and receive five years in prison after a Suffolk prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense.
The actions of Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock were deemed to be so egregious that he stepped down after Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota asked him to resign.
Kurtzrock was well into the trial of suspect Messiah Booker, 32, of Farmingdale — charged with second-degree murder in the 2013 death of Demetri Hampton, 21, of Flanders — when the roof on his yearslong career as a Suffolk ADA caved in.
The charges were dropped after Booker’s attorney said he discovered that the prosecutor had failed to turn over notes that indicated that at least two other men might have been responsible for the killing.
It’s not uncommon for defense attorneys to allege violations of the Brady Rule, which generally requires that prosecutors turn over evidence favorable to defendants as soon as they have it. But in Suffolk, such allegations have impacted at least two major cases in recent years.
In 2012, Gabriel Hubbard was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2008 death of Jaquan Jones. But state Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman set that verdict aside, ruling that prosecutors should have told the defense that the same detective who took Hubbard’s confession had earlier taken a false confession from Thomas Moroughan, a cabdriver charged with assaulting an off-duty police officer who shot him in 2011.
Suffolk prosecutors later dismissed the charge against Moroughan.
Hubbard’s case was resolved last year after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
In 2015, the case against Dante Taylor, who was charged in the 2014 murder of Sarah Goode, was marred by disclosures during a pretrial hearing that police had not read Taylor his rights before his first interview with them, and that police had searched Taylor’s car without a warrant.
State Supreme Court Justice John Collins found later that prosecutors illegally had withheld from the defense a series of Crime Stoppers tips pointing to other possible suspects and destroyed a threatening voicemail message from the boyfriend with whom Goode had just split.
The case went to trial in 2016, and Taylor was convicted of first-degree murder in Goode’s death.
Collins also was the judge in Tuesday’s proceedings, where the second-degree murder charge against Booker was dropped. Collins called the plea deal appropriate because the “likely resulting sanctions” due to prosecutorial misconduct would have “severely diminished” the likelihood of conviction on the murder charge.
With all that, it’s fair to ask: Does the Suffolk DA’s office have a habit of withholding evidence? “No, there is not,” said Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Spota, a Democrat who has not announced whether he will seek another term, as potential Republican and Democratic challengers eye his post.
What about other cases handled by Kurtzrock? Will his actions in the case against Booker — who was part of a group that orchestrated a home invasion burglary that ended with Hampton’s slaying — affect cases involving Booker’s co-defendants? And what about cases Kurtzrock handled in the past?
Is there a review underway? “That is what’s going on now,” Clifford said.
Nothing however — the review, the forced resignation or the defendant’s plea to a reduced charge — lessens the damage to the DA’s office — or the pain heaped, once again and from an unexpected quarter, upon the family of Demitri Hampton.