Justice on the Block

Is the D.A.'s office for sale to the highest bidder?

Attorney Katherine Scardino recalls her defense work for Joseph Vincent Durrett in 1995, when he was twice charged with the capital murder of his estranged wife and her sister. The case first seemed open-and-shut; hairs found on the body of the victim were tentatively identified as those of the suspect. But an assistant medical examiner, Elizabeth Johnson, found through DNA testing that the hairs did not match. Prosecutors questioned Johnson's results and sent the evidence to an independent lab, which verified her findings. Scardino says Rosenthal wrote a letter instructing the lab to withhold the findings from the defense.

"It was clear," says Scardino. "I have a copy of the letter. He said, 'Do not talk to the defense,' and they didn't for a long time." Her client was eventually acquitted, with the help of the corroborating evidence she says Rosenthal tried to suppress.

"I think Chuck is known in the defense bar for walking the fine line to do whatever is necessary to get it done for the prosecution," says Scardino. "If he is elected D.A., I think it will be worse than what it is now for the defense bar."

It's the same message Jim Leitner is sending out in his KPRC radio ad. The question is whether there is an audience in the GOP primary tuned in to receive it.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim.fleck@houstonpress.com.

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