Guest Commentary

Serving justice includes taking a second look at past convictions

After being wrongly imprisoned for a double-homicide for the past 23 years, Lamonte McIntyre hugged his mother, Rosie McIntyre on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, after walking out of the Wyandotte County Courthouse.
After being wrongly imprisoned for a double-homicide for the past 23 years, Lamonte McIntyre hugged his mother, Rosie McIntyre on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, after walking out of the Wyandotte County Courthouse.

At 17 years old, Lamonte McIntyre was arrested for a double murder in Kansas City, Kan. Despite the fact that no physical evidence linked him to the crime and a motive was never established, he was quickly convicted.

After spending over two decades — the majority of his life — incarcerated, McIntyre walked free on Oct. 13, 2017 after a sustained effort to exonerate him. The second look at his conviction raised deeply troubling allegations about the detective who handled the investigation and his apparent pattern of egregious misconduct spanning decades.

This case has now emerged as a proof point in a pitched battle as Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree tries to establish and secure funding for a CIU, or Conviction Integrity Unit — a system that will ensure the pursuit of justice for people like McIntyre. While the creation of a CIU should be an easy call, vocal local law enforcement opposition has stalled the County Commissioners’ fiscal support for this reform.

The dispute spilled onto the national stage last Wednesday when we joined more than 55 other leading criminal justice experts in calling for support for this unit.

It was Dupree who conducted the review of McIntyre’s case — including allegations regarding the since-retired detective and his reputation for using his position to initiate sex with vulnerable women, and accounts by key female witnesses in this case (one of whom disavowed her trial testimony) regarding pressure to identify McIntyre as the perpetrator. The process of correcting this miscarriage of justice, as well as claims of innocence in numerous other cases, prompted Dupree’s decision to create a vehicle for these critical reviews.

Already operating in more than 30 jurisdictions nationwide, including Dallas, Jacksonville and neighboring Jackson County in Missouri, CIUs are well-established vehicles for reviewing past convictions that raise concerns about the integrity of our justice system. These reviews can include claims of actual innocence as well as law enforcement misconduct or due process violations that undermine confidence in the conviction.

That’s why, as a former prosecutor and former police chief, we were deeply disappointed to see Kansas City, Kan., law enforcement leaders react the way they did: questioning Dupree’s effort to establish a CIU and urging a halt to the unit’s funding. It should be the priority of everyone in our criminal justice system to support the integrity of every conviction.

Local law enforcement leaders have misguidedly argued that it is not the DA’s role to try to correct wrongful convictions and that these duties are uniquely vested in advocates such as the Innocence Project or defense attorneys. That is simply not true. The prosecutor’s core responsibility is to ensure that justice is served in every case.

The American Bar Association spells out this ethical North Star, mandating that when prosecutors discover evidence establishing innocence, they “shall seek to remedy the conviction.”

Law enforcement critics also wrongly took aim at Dupree for purportedly disregarding victims with this effort. We don’t see it that way. Allowing injustices to persist is what fails victims — not seeing that the true perpetrator is held accountable.

Prosecutors cannot just wait for others to take action if wrongs have not been addressed, as was the case with McIntyre. We should expect no less from DAs and applaud, rather than criticize, officials such as Dupree who understand this mandate.

Our criminal justice system makes mistakes. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, people who were later exonerated have spent 19,794 collective years behind bars since 1989. By creating a CIU, Dupree would be living up to his sworn duty to serve his community and deliver a system that reflects our ideals of fairness and justice for all.

We hope that Wyandotte County officials recognize this reality and swiftly release funds that will allow this unit to move forward. People such as Lamont McIntyre who are unjustly caught in the system should not be kept waiting.

Brendan Cox spent more than two decades in the Albany Police Department, including as chief of police from 2015 to 2017. He co-authored this with former federal prosecutor Miriam Aroni Krinsky, executive director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Fair and Just Prosecution.