A former Suffolk County homicide prosecutor has been suspended from practicing law after he failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in a 2017 trial resulting from the murder of a Riverhead man.
Glenn Kurtzrock, who resigned from the District Attorney’s office after a defense attorney in the trial of Messiah Booker revealed the prosecutor withheld notes that might have implicated other suspects in the 2013 murder of 21-year-old Demitri Hampton, will be prevented from practicing law for two years. The Dec. 30 appellate court decision followed a petition filed by a grievance committee overseeing attorney complaints.
“We find that the respondent’s conduct warrants his suspension from the practice of law,” the ruling from the State Supreme Court’s Second Judicial Department Appellate Division reads. “He committed serious misconduct that undermines the public’s trust in the justice system.”
Mr. Kurtzrock had been in private practice since his May 2017 resignation, which occurred on the day the trial abruptly came to a close with a guilty plea to lesser charges for Mr. Booker, the suspected gunman in the home invasion killing. Facing the possibility of life in prison for murder at trial, Mr. Booker was instead convicted of burglary and weapons charges and was released from prison last August after serving more than five years from the time of his arrest, parole records show. Three co-defendants avoided trial and faced even lesser sentences.
Nearly a year after the Booker trial ended, an internal review by the Suffolk DA’s office of another Kurtzrock case revealed he had committed similar violations in the trial of a man convicted of a murder in Amityville. Shawn Lawrence was six years into a 75-years-to-life prison sentence when he was released after the DA’s investigation into his case.
The recent 23-page appellate court decision, however, references only the Booker trial and makes no mention of improprieties in any other cases Mr. Kurtzrock was involved with in his more than 20-year legal career.
Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel for the Innocence Project, called the two-year suspension “too light,” saying she believes Mr. Kurtzrock should have been disbarred for his actions. She pointed to what she described as “two enormous problems with the appellate court’s decision,” saying it didn’t match the “gravity of the harm [Mr. Kurtzrock] caused” and failed to recognize the Lawrence case. Ms. Morrison said the appellate division should have known about the second case since it was part of a lawsuit the Innocence Project filed in that same court in 2019 attempting to have Mr. Kurtzrock’s disciplinary records unsealed. That lawsuit was unsuccessful.
Ms. Morrison also commented on how long it took for Mr. Kurtzrock, who had been promoting himself as a former prosecutor, to face discipline.
“[The trial was] almost four years ago. Why in the world would it take four years?” she said.
Mr. Kurtzrock’s attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, did not respond to a request for comment Friday. He previously told Newsday they planned to appeal the decision.
Juanita Trent of Riverhead, the mother of Mr. Hampton, said Friday she had not been made aware of the disciplinary action taken against the man who prosecuted her son’s murder eight years ago this month. Reflecting on the day the case against Mr. Booker fell apart, Ms. Trent said it was “like they killed him a second time.”
“It was such a botched trial,” she said. “I was so confused.”
During Mr. Booker’s trial, defense attorney Brendan Ahern noticed that a detective’s notes “jumped from a point in 2013 to a point in 2015.”
Suffolk County Justice John Collins subsequently ordered Mr. Kurtzrock to turn over the requested materials, which included hundreds of pages of police notes related to the investigation.
Judge Collins said at the time that it was apparent there was “serious misconduct in the prosecution of [Mr. Booker]” and referred to the end result as a “travesty of justice.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, who took office after Mr. Kurtzrock’s resignation, said in a statement this week that his office has completed its review of all homicide cases handled by the attorney and made all disclosures. Investigators are continuing to look into other matters Mr. Kurtzrock was involved in.
“This kind of misconduct, which went unchecked by the previous administration, is reprehensible, and goes against our duties as prosecutors to seek the truth and to serve justice,” Mr. Sini said. “Under my administration, the Office has instituted a culture of compliance where we adhere to the highest ethical and legal standards to ensure that justice is achieved in each and every case.”
A new set of criminal justice reform laws that went into effect last year include changes to the state’s discovery laws, which had not been updated since 1979.
The new rules no longer require defense attorneys to file requests for discovery and instead require that evidence, including grand jury testimony and police reports, be turned over automatically 15 days after an indictment. In addition to the 15-day rule, prosecutors are now required to turn over information to defendants at least three days prior to the deadline for accepting a plea deal.
Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has had his own legal issues to deal with in the year’s since. Mr. Spota is currently awaiting sentencing after his conviction for helping to cover up the beating of a suspect who stole items from the SUV of a former county police chief.