ST. LOUIS — The city's top prosecutor announced Tuesday that his office will revive an effort to review cases where people claim they were wrongfully convicted, and it already has three investigations in the works.
Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore said the Conviction Integrity Unit, which will be led by former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper, will work to prevent, identify and remedy wrongful convictions with help from attorneys at private law firms. It's a similar process used by Gore's predecessor, Kimberly M. Gardner, to free Lamar Johnson, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The unit is one of several ways Gore says he is trying to restore and improve a dysfunctional office that was staffed with roughly half the attorneys as were budgeted when Gore took over about six months ago.
Since then, Gore has hired two dozen lawyers and 14 support staff, including victim advocates and paralegals, cleared thousands of cases on an uncharged backlog, disposed of 53 homicide cases with charges or pleas and charged 45% more cases than Gardner did during the same period last year, he said.
But there is more work to do, he said during a news conference on Tuesday to discuss his first six months as city prosecutor.
Gore's office is still updating antiquated IT systems, trying to fully clear case backlogs, rebuild relationships with the public and ramp up a diversion program that would allow people to avoid a conviction if they complete programs to address issues like substance abuse and domestic violence.
"I am very pleased with the trajectory the office is on," he said.
Gore took over in late May after Gardner abruptly resigned amid a lawsuit seeking her removal from office and a bill filed in the Missouri legislature that would have stripped her of much of her power.
In his first six weeks, he hired more than a dozen attorneys and cut a backlog of pending cases in half.
By September, a Post-Dispatch analysis found the office had filed twice as many criminal cases as Gardner's office did during the same period one year earlier.
And that trend has continued, Gore said Tuesday. The office has now hired 24 new attorneys, half of whom previously worked in the Circuit Attorney's Office, and five of whom have worked in other prosecutor's offices in the region, he said.
Gore is also asking the city for more positions to be added to his payroll with the goal of having at least 60 attorneys on staff.
He also wants to bolster diversion programs, which had just 40 participants when he took office. Gore said he hopes to have between 250 to 400 people enrolled in those programs to help them avoid felony or misdemeanor convictions. He said he also wants to use drug and other treatment courts more frequently.
Gore's spokeswoman declined to say which three cases were being reviewed by the conviction integrity unit because they are ongoing.
Gore, however, confirmed that a separate effort to review the 1991 murder conviction of Christopher Dunn was still underway. Gardner announced in the days before her resignation that her office had filed to overturn his conviction, but Gore withdrew that motion in order to conduct a full review. That investigation is still ongoing, he said.
As for Gore's future in office, he said Tuesday he is still making up his mind about whether he wants to become a political candidate and run for a full term next November.
"It is not something I ever thought I would pursue," he said. "But the circumstances here present a scenario where it's something I have to seriously consider."
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