8 THE QUEENS COURIER • JANUARY 2, 2020 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM
Incoming Queens DA Katz seeks to
fulfi ll vows of ‘sweeping changes’
BY MARK HALLUM
As the new year approaches Melinda
Katz is getting ready to trade jobs in
Queens — moving from her borough
president’s offi ce to the district attorney’s
Katz will be the fi rst new Queens DA in
28 years; the late Richard Brown held the
offi ce from 1991 until his death in May
of this year. Since Brown’s demise, John
Ryan has served as the borough’s acting
But what policy changes is Katz planning
for her new role?
A conviction integrity unit was one policy
she said she would still implement
on a recent episode of the Brian Lehrer
Show on WNYC – an apparatus she plans
to wield in big cases where public doubt
around decisions has been made clear.
“Th ere is such a thing as justice for
defendants and justice for victims. I
think during the campaign it became
such a misnomer; people thought it was
one or the other,” Katz said. “But it’s also
the attitude of the assistant district attorneys
and district attorney who heads the
Lehrer asked if the proposed conviction
integrity unit would consider the case of
Chanel Lewis, who was found guilty in
the spring of murdering Howard Beach
jogger Karina Vetrano in August 2016.
Exculpatory evidence revealed in the
late stages of Lewis’ trial claimed DNA
swabs and other evidence suggested to
some that Lewis did not fi t the description
of the perp.
Deputy Chief Michael Kemper said at
several meetings that the perps initially
sought for the Vetrano murder were
two “jacked up” white men from Howard
Beach, and another police offi cial repeatedly
called for the DNA swabbing of all
white men in the area, according to an
anonymous letter from an NYPD source.
But Lewis, whose DNA was linked
nearly six months aft er the murder to evidence
found at the crime scene, was convicted,
and is now serving a sentence of
life without parole.
“I believe we’re going to look at this and
see how the conviction integrity unit feels
about this case as well, but it is ongoing,”
Amid rumors, reported by Lehrer, that
many of Katz’ new chief assistants have
been sourced from Brown’s old staff , the
incoming DA brushed off suspicion that
Brown’s less-than-progressive approach to
criminal justice would live on.
“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately my
policies or no policy – or the highway,”
With new discovery laws going into
eff ect in 2020, DA’s will no longer be able
to withhold evidence from the defense
while building a case. Th is was a reform
pushed by many of the candidates in the
seven person fi eld in the Democratic primary,
including Tiff any Cabán who nearly
upset Katz’ presumptive victory as the
county party choice.
Katz announced that she will implement
a policy in the Queens DA’s offi ce
that only gave defendants fi ve days to
waive their right to a grand jury, taking
the opportunity to plea bargain out of the
equation aft er that period.
“Defendants won’t have to waive
their 180.80 rights. Th e constitutional
rights to make sure that you have speedy
grand jury to make sure you are indicted
Photo by Mark Hallum
in a timely fashion,” Katz said. “When you
get arrested for a felony and you couldn’t
get the grand jury within fi ve days and
you waived your right to have that, it really
tied the hands of the attorneys to be
able to plea, to be able to negotiate and to
be able to talk about how we end up in a
fair and just way.”
Bail reform also takes eff ect on Jan. 1
and Katz said the offi ce is already prepared
for the change which will no longer
require defendants to pay up.
Pre-charge diversion and other jail
alternatives will be off ered, Katz said,
eliminating the need detentions and bail.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
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