An extensive look into the record of a disgraced former Suffolk County prosecutor has revealed a pattern of misconduct that spans more than a dozen cases dating back to 2004.
The 36-page report, released by District Attorney Timothy Sini’s office Tuesday, contains the findings of an investigation into 20 cases prosecuted by former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock. [Read the full report below]
Mr. Kurtzrock was forced to resign by former DA Thomas Spota in 2017 after failing to turn over exculpatory evidence in the trial of Messiah Booker, who was charged in the killing of 21-year-old Demitri Hampton, a Riverhead man shot to death during a home invasion in Flanders.
“[This report] 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,” Mr. Sini said in a statement Tuesday.
Mr. Sini, who lost a bid for reelection to Republican Ray Tierney earlier this month, characterized the report as “historic.”
It’s believed to be the first reexamination of an individual prosecutor’s compliance with disclosure obligations conducted by a District Attorney’s office and made public.
The investigation has resulted in the disclosure of “hundreds of documents” to former defendants, the district attorney said.
Mr. Kurtzrock’s indiscretions first came to light during Mr. Booker’s trial, when then-defense attorney Brendan Ahern found the prosecution withheld notes that may have implicated two other men in Mr. Hampton’s death.
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. Three co-defendants avoided trial and faced even lesser sentences.
Following an Appellate Court decision late last year, Mr. Kurtzrock’s law license was suspended for two years due to his misconduct in that case.
At least one other case with ties to the East End was reviewed as part of the multi-year investigation.
In the case of Guillermo Alvarado-Ajcuc, who was sentenced in 2014 to 25 years to life in prison for the rape and murder of a woman behind the Riverhead DMV parking lot in 2012, the report found that while the evidence against the man was overwhelming, notes and reports by detectives and witness statements were withheld.
The report also notes that the former prosecutor did not disclose that a friend of Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc submitted a tip to Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, for which he received a $2,000 reward.
An internal review of another murder case tried by Mr. Kurtzrock found that more than 40 items of exculpatory evidence were withheld from the defense of Shawn Lawrence, who was sentenced in 2015 to 75 years to life in prison for shooting a man at a house party in Amityville in 2010.
Six years into that sentence, his conviction was overturned by acting Supreme Court Justice William Condon in 2018. During that proceeding, Justice Condon described the withholding of evidence in the case as an “absolutely stunning” example of misconduct that ultimately deprived Mr. Lawrence of a fair trial.
In an interview Wednesday, Paul Shechtman, a former federal prosecutor in New York’s Southern District and partner at Bracewell LLP who teaches at Columbia and Yale, praised the DA’s office for conducting the review.
“The citizens of the county should be deeply impressed,” Mr. Shechtman said. “It’s never easy to look backward and never easy to admit mistakes even if they didn’t happen on your watch.”
In January, Mr. Shechtman and Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project co-wrote a letter highlighting “disturbing” similarities between Mr. Booker’s and Mr. Lawrence’s cases.
“Hiding Brady material in one’s vest or in one’s desk drawer is criminal,” Mr. Shechtman said. “Good prosecutors make mistakes. Bad prosecutors engage in intentional misconduct.”
“Brady” material refers to favorable evidence to a defendant that the prosecution is required to turn over and the term comes from a 1963 Supreme Court case.
Mr. Kurtzrock’s attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, was unavailable to comment Wednesday but told Newsday the report was a “hit job” against his client, whom he described as “an honorable guy.” He denied that his client did anything intentionally.
While the District Attorney’s office remains “confident” in the convictions in all of Mr. Kurtzrock’s cases aside from Mr. Lawrence and his co-defendant, officials said they’ve made all non-produced Rosario, Brady and Giglio materials to all defendants and their counsel for their own review.
The report has been shared with the Grievance Committee and Appellate Division to determine if additional measures are appropriate.
The investigation was conducted in a collaboration between the DA’s Conviction Integrity Bureau, which Mr. Sini created in 2018, and the New York Law School Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, which was awarded a $275,000 federal grant in 2019.
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” that “prioritizes justice over winning.”