A disgraced former Suffolk homicide prosecutor failed to turn over required documents in at least 16 cases, including more than a dozen murder trials, as part of a pattern of "serious misconduct," according to a report released Tuesday by District Attorney Timothy Sini's office.
The multiyear investigation into former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock was conducted with the office's Conviction Integrity Bureau and New York Law School Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic. Sini said it is believed to be the first publicly issued review and audit by a district attorney’s office of a prosecutor’s compliance with disclosure obligations.
"This is a historic report, and it shows our commitment not just to righting any past injustices made by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, but to making sure that kind of misconduct never occurs again," Sini, a Democrat who lost his reelection contest earlier this month, said in a statement. " … This was an exhaustive re-examination of Kurtzrock’s cases that has resulted in the disclosure of hundreds of documents to former defendants in furtherance of our mission."
Kurtzrock served in the district attorney’s office from 2004 and was assigned to the Homicide Bureau from 2010 to 2017, when he was forced to resign by then-District Attorney Thomas Spota.
The 36-page report examined 20 cases that Kurtzrock worked on between 2004 and 2017, and it detailed repeated instances where he failed to turn over documents before trial to defense attorneys or redacted statements in documents that were helpful to the defense. As a result of the investigation, the DA's office has since provided additional disclosures of evidence in 13 homicide cases that Kurtzrock assisted on and in 76% of all cases reviewed in the report.
Adele Bernhard, distinguished adjunct professor at New York Law School and director of the Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, said the report "exemplifies the best practices of a modern prosecutorial team: reviewing convictions to ensure justice and using information learned through the review process to ensure the entire office prioritizes justice over winning."
David Besso, Kurtzrock's attorney, called the report a "hit job" and said his client's conduct was not intentional.
"Mr. Kurtzrock is an honorable guy," Besso said. "He was a prosecutor for a long time. He put his heart and soul into the job. Mr. Kurtzrock denies any responsibility for doing anything intentionally."
Besso said Sini's office never contacted him or Kurtzrock during the course of the investigation to correct any errors or misunderstandings.
"It seems that would have been the fair thing to do," Besso said.
Kurtzrock was forced to resign during the May 2017 murder trial of Messiah Booker of Farmingdale after then-defense attorney Brendan Ahern discovered the homicide prosecutor deliberately withheld evidence that at least two other men might have been responsible for the killing.
Murder charges against Booker and three co-defendants were dropped, and each of the four pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Ahern is now deputy division chief of the trial division of the DA's office.
The violations against Kurtzrock were affirmed by a special referee appointed by the Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District and confirmed in an Appellate Division opinion issued last year, which resulted in the suspension of his law license.
The opinion, however, concluded that there was "no showing that he engaged in any similar conduct in any other cases."
Eight months later, the murder conviction of Shawn Lawrence was thrown out as a result of similar misconduct by Kurtzrock and other prosecutors, which had a "devastating effect on the fairness of the proceedings," the report said. Lawrence was freed after serving six years of a 75-years-to-life prison sentence.
Sini created the Conviction Integrity Bureau after taking office in 2018 and tasked it with determining if Kurtzrock's misconduct was not isolated.
"The review concludes that Kurtzrock engaged in other misconduct that is similar" to that examined in the Booker case, according to the report, which was shared with the Grievance Committee and the Appellate Division to determine if any additional actions are appropriate.
Despite the failed disclosures, Sini's office said it had "confidence in the verdicts of conviction and negotiated dispositions of ADA Kurtzrock's cases" in all but the Lawrence case and his co-defendant Allan McGhee.
To avoid future misconduct, Sini's office said it adopted a disclosure policy in 2018 — now mandated by a 2020 state law — that requires prosecutors to turn over most material when initially discovered, as opposed to on the eve of trial, and the implementation of a new training program for prosecutors on disclosure obligations.
With Michael O'Keefe