Assistant District Attorney Andrew Weiss, chief of the Public Integrity...

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Weiss, chief of the Public Integrity Bureau for District Attorney Timothy Sini, is seen on May 28. Credit: James Carbone

Days after the Suffolk district attorney's office abandoned a trouble-plagued arson case against two firefighters, the lead prosecutor in the case has resigned at the office's request, according to multiple sources familiar with the case.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Weiss, chief of the Public Integrity Bureau for District Attorney Timothy Sini, led the prosecution of Stephen Hernandez, 25, and Weldon Drayton Jr., 35. Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for Sini, said the district attorney's office would not comment on personnel matters.

Weiss' last public appearance was May 28, when he watched Chief Assistant District Attorney William Ferris tell jurors and state Supreme Court Justice John Collins that the prosecution had to end because several witnesses testified so inconsistently. Left unaddressed by Ferris, however, was the evidence prosecutors had withheld in an apparent violation of legal and ethical rules before and throughout the trial.

Weiss, who declined to comment Tuesday, resigned three days later.

The withheld evidence included new criminal charges against  accomplices who testified against Hernandez and Drayton, surveillance video that failed to show the defendants doing things claimed by the accomplices, video from fire scenes that did not show the defendants, and crack dealing and gang membership of one of the  accomplices.

Weiss repeatedly argued in court that the evidence was not relevant or that he had only just learned of it. Collins grew increasingly frustrated with those explanations, calling them "doubletalk" and "mealy-mouthed" and said at one point that it would be "giving them too much credit" to suggest that Weiss and his co-counsel were capable of committing intentional misconduct.

Sini came into office promising accountability and integrity from his staff. "There's not an issue that's more important than creating a culture of compliance," Sini said then.

During the trial, Sini criticized past prosecutorial misconduct  that led to a wrongful murder conviction, and urged lawyers to be scrupulous about obeying ethical rules.

"I hope people are paying attention in the criminal justice community, including in my office," he said.

Hernandez's attorney, Steve Politi of Central Islip, said it was sad -- but appropriate -- that Weiss lost his job.

"I hope this serves as a warning to all prosecutors not to even think of engaging in similar conduct," Politi said. "I hope everyone doesn't lose sight of the fact that innocent people can end up in prison when exculpatory evidence is concealed and the law relating to such material is not followed."

Drayton's attorney, Stephen McCarthy Jr. of Manhattan, expressed similar sentiments.

"Sad when any individual with a family loses their job, but as a practical matter, the role of a prosecutor in this country is so special and potentially so powerful, they absolutely must treat people fairly at all times," McCarthy said.

Fairness wasn't present in the prosecution of the case until the upper echelons of the district attorney's office stepped in, McCarthy said.

Harry Tilis, president of the Suffolk County Criminal Bar Association, praised Sini for handling the situation appropriately.

"Prosecutors and law enforcement in general have a substantial obligation to ensure that our criminal justice process is fair and protects everyone involved," Tilis said. "When that fairness doesn't happen, all of us suffer."

Under what is known as the Brady rule, prosecutors generally are required to turn over evidence favorable to the defense as soon as they are aware of it.

Failure to comply with the Brady rule plagued the latter years of former District Attorney Thomas Spota's administration, resulting in murder cases against more than a half dozen defendants falling apart.

Sini pledged that his office would be different. He said complying with legal rules such as Brady is not only is the ethical thing to do, but also makes convictions less vulnerable to appeal, he said then.

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