Thursday, April 19, 2007

San Diego's Real Nifong

The describes itself as "a nonprofit, independent and insightful online newspaper focused on issues impacting the San Diego region" with the aim "to consistently deliver ground-breaking investigative journalism for the San Diego region" and "to increase civic participation by giving citizens the knowledge and in-depth analysis necessary to become advocates for good government and social progress." Wade Sanders has an article up today relating San Diego's experience with rogue prosecutors.
District Attorney Michael Nifong of Durham County, North Carolina, has nothing on San Diego when it comes to overzealous prosecutions and politically motivated witch hunts. The Hartless, Akiki, Wade, Genzler and Crowe cases provide graphic examples of lying, altering and manufacturing evidence, the encouragement of false testimony and unseemly relationships with criminals in order to prosecute innocent citizens.

Remarkable in its similarity to the lacrosse team prosecution, one of those cases involved a Sunday school volunteer, Dale Akiki, and the former San Diego District Attorney Edwin Miller.

Like Nifong, Miller rejected the protestations of his own prosecutors, the lack of physical evidence, conflicting stories, and he may have been influenced by his campaign for re-election. The result was the incarceration and prosecution of an innocent man. Complicit in this activity was Mary Avery, a former deputy district attorney who, in concert with a dysfunctional Probation Department and Child Protective Services, so perverted justice that it required a grand jury to restore the prosecutorial process to a fact-based operation.

As a result, Akiki spent nearly three years behind bars and the taxpayers of San Diego suffered an unnecessary trial costing millions of dollars. After a seven-month trial, it took less than seven hours for the jury to free Akiki. In a testament to their belief in his innocence, his jailers financed a limousine to carry Akiki home. The members of the jury angrily condemned both Miller and Avery for bringing the case to trial in spite of the complete lack of physical evidence.

After the trial, it was learned that one of Miller's campaign contributors lobbied him to prosecute Akiki and recommended Avery, the founder of an organization funded by that contributor, to handle the case. A few months after the verdict, Miller was turned out of office, receiving just 13 percent of the vote, and Avery was re-assigned to less responsible duties. She subsequently resigned from the California State Bar.

Perhaps similar justice awaits Nifong, but what of the lives that are destroyed by overzealous prosecutors in their drive to win at all cost? The public must feel secure that the police powers of our society, be they in uniform on our streets, sitting in judicial robes, or investigating and prosecuting offenses, are motivated by a desire to do justice, not to win. That is why I am discomforted whenever I hear a district attorney, including San Diego's Bonnie Dumanis, brag about the number of convictions they have obtained, rather than the innocents they have exonerated.

If time allows, please visit to read the balance of San Diego's Real Nifong.

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