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Worcester district attorney's overall conviction rate ticks up; Statistics also show percentage of guilty findings down.

Byline: Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER -- The district attorney's overall conviction rate was up last year in Worcester Superior Court, but the percentage of defendants found guilty after trial was down from 2013.

Statistics released by District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. at the request of the Telegram & Gazette showed an overall conviction rate of 87.4 percent last year in Worcester Superior Court, where felony cases are heard, with 382 of 437 defendants whose cases were resolved being convicted of at least one crime.

In 2013, there were 483 criminal cases resolved in the court and Mr. Early's overall conviction rate was 86.1 percent.

The overall conviction rate includes cases disposed of by way of trial, guilty plea, dismissal or nol pros (prosecutor's decision not to proceed after a charge has been filed).

Of the 437 cases that were disposed of in 2014, 321, or 73.5 percent, were resolved by guilty pleas; 52, or 11.9 percent, were tried before a jury; nine, or 2.1 percent, were jury-waived trials with a judge serving as the finder of fact; and 55, or 12.5 percent, were either dismissed or nol prossed.

A total of 114 drug cases were resolved, with 87 or 76.3 percent resulting in convictions.

There were 61 defendants whose cases were tried last year in Worcester Superior Court, compared with 55 in 2013. Mr. Early's conviction rate after trial was 59 percent in 2014, down from 69 percent the previous year.

Mr. Early said the reduction resulted from a high percentage of acquittals in jury-waived trials. There were nine jury-waived trials last year in Worcester Superior Court and only one defendant, 11.1 percent, was found guilty.

Of the 52 defendants who opted for jury trials, 35, or 67.3 percent, were convicted.

"You look at the jury-waived trials and you say, 'Are you upset over that number?' The answer is no. First of all, these are only nine cases out of 437 and these are cases where there is usually an issue of law or some inherent problem with the case where a good defense lawyer will say, 'Let's get that in front of a judge,' '' the district attorney said.

Mr. Early noted that in 2013, eight of 13 jury-waived cases ended with guilty findings, for a 62 percent conviction rate.

He pointed out that his conviction rate in jury trials was 67.3 percent in 2014.

"If you're doing better than 50 percent on your jury convictions, they tell you you're doing a pretty good job,'' the district attorney said.

Mr. Early said he took particular pride in his office's success rate in murder trials last year.

His prosecutors tried nine first-degree murder cases in 2014, including one with two co-defendants. The results were six first-degree murder convictions, one second-degree murder conviction, one manslaughter conviction, one mistrial and one not-guilty verdict.

Senior First Assistant District Attorney Daniel J. Bennett, who left Mr. Early's office in January this year to become state secretary of public safety, tried four murder cases in 2014 and won an equal number of first-degree convictions.

The defendants in those cases included the three men charged with the 1994 murder of Kevin Harkins. One of the obstacles faced by Mr. Bennett in the 20-year-old homicide case was the fact that Mr. Harkins' body has never been found.

"You want to look at numbers? Those are numbers. This is something I'm real proud of,'' Mr. Early said.

Still, the district attorney insists he is more interested in pursuing justice for victims and their families than in keeping his conviction rates up. That is why he said he has committed himself to "aggressive prosecutions on things that matter to the community, especially violence.

"It's justice. It's the victims that motivate us,'' he said.

Contact Gary V. Murray at Follow him on Twitter @GaryMurrayTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Murray, Gary V.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 24, 2015
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