Former prosecutor says turnover rate in circuit attorney’s office is hurting witnesses

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ST. LOUIS – The former assistant circuit attorney who led the homicide department is running against Kim Gardner in next year’s election.

Mary Pat Carl worked in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office for 15 years and ran for the top spot in 2016. She lost to Kim Gardner, then left to go into private practice the next year. She says so many other attorneys have quit the circuit attorney’s office since Gardner's election, she feels she must return.

“I received a Facebook message recently from a robbery victim. She was robbed in July. It’s October. She’s on her fourth prosecutor. She’s frustrated,” Carl said.

Carl believes turnover in the office is hurting victims.

“Every time they have a new prosecutor, they’re starting from the beginning. (They’re starting over with) what happened to them, building that relationship, disclosing the horrible parts of what they’ve been through,” she said. “They’re doing that over and over and over again as people filter through. I think at a certain point they’re going to lose faith their case is getting to trial.”

Carl says she’s calculated a 110 percent turnover when you include Gardner's hires who have already left.

She says attorneys who left are afraid to speak up but are reporting to her numbers that show the conviction rate at trial has dropped down to 20 percent.

“That has to affect your willingness to come forward. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with witnesses or victims. At some point in a trial, almost everyone gets cold feet,” she said. “But when you’ve got a 20 percent conviction rate on cases that go to trial, I don’t know what you say to that person.”

Two weeks before she announced she was running, she wrote a guest editorial for the St. Louis Post Dispatch titled, "Amid child murders, Kim Gardner gives witnesses every reason to stay silent."

“There was a huge reaction to that column resonating with people,” Carl said. “I had a mom who lost a son in a homicide who was frustrated with the outcome of her case and called me numerous times and people thanking me for standing up and speaking for victims and it absolutely was the push I needed over the cliff to run again.”

Instead of a rebuttal from Gardner, circuit attorney spokesperson Susan Ryan responded, “She’s picking and choosing data and misrepresenting it to the public.”

Fox 2 asked Ryan why she’s addressing the matter and not Gardner herself.

“Because I have the ability to look at the history of it and so I can give a look from totality,” Ryan said.

Ryan says she can answer from a perspective of having worked 14 years under Jennifer Joyce and nearly three with Gardner. She said turnover happens.

“There were changes in the mid-2000s. Ninety-six people left in a three-year time period and changes happened over the last couple years and that’s what happens when change happens in any organization.”

She disputed Carl's claim the circuit attorney’s office has a 20 percent trial conviction rate.

“The circuit attorney’s office has a 90 percent conviction rate. Less than one percent of cases that come through the office go to trial,” Ryan said. “The trial conviction rate in 2018, for example, is almost 60 percent. That’s higher than the national average.”

Ryan says the office is making headway for victims.

“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about this is that Kim Gardner is putting together programs that we believe are going to decrease crime,” she said.

Gardner and Carl will face each other in the 2020 Democratic primary. Last time around, Gardner beat Carl 47 percent to 24 percent. Gardner then ran unopposed in the 2016 general election.

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