Judge Slaps Philly DA For Misconduct

With homicides in Philadelphia on track to eclipse last year’s record-setting 562 murders according to AXIOS,  District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office is working to reduce sentences for convicted murderers.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that last week a federal judge rejected Krasner’s effort to reduce the death sentence of a 1984 double-murderer, in a decision highlighting the fact that his office had attempted to mislead the court.  Shortly after the former criminal defense attorney’s election as district attorney in 2018, Krasner fired 31 deputies, including a dozen experienced homicide prosecutors.  Since then. his office has partnered with defense attorneys to petition Philadelphia judges to resentence condemned murderers to life in prison without parole.  Earlier this year the DA joined the defense attorney for Robert Wharton, who murdered a young couple in 1984, to petition Federal District Judge Mitchell Goldberg to overturn his death sentence on a claim of ineffective assistance of council at the sentencing hearing.

The murders occurred in the Philadelphia suburb of Mount Airy, on January 30, 1984.   After gaining entry into their home. Wharton forced Bradly Hart to write him a check, then took him to the basement and strangled him to death.  He and an accomplice tied up Fern Hart and tried to drown her in a bathtub.  Wharton finally strangled her to death with a necktie.  The then turned off the heat and left their infant daughter to die in the cold.  The daughter survived.

In his decision the judge noted that in argument to vacate Wharton’s death sentence, Krasner’s office claimed to have conducted  “a careful and independent review” of all aspects of the case including Wharton’s behavior since his murder conviction.  Krasner’s office also claimed to have decided to concede Wharton’s claim and support reducing his sentence after “communication with the victim’s family.”

The judge determined that the careful review of Wharton’s case omitted his conviction of a violent escape attempt, which would have weighed against a sentence reduction.  Krasner’s office also misrepresented their “communication with the victim’s family,” which actually consisted of notifying the surviving daughter that they were seeking to reduce the sentence of her parent’s murderer.  In fact, the daughter and other members of the family are strongly opposed to the sentence reduction.

Goldberg said the review by prosecutors was “patently deficient” for failing to mention that Wharton had previously been convicted of violently trying to escape from a City Hall courtroom.

In addition, Goldberg found that Krasner’s office had provided a “false” account of its interactions with the victims’ relatives, including their daughter, Lisa Hart-Newman, who survived the attack. Goldberg said prosecutors filed documents suggesting that the family of Ferne and Bradley Hart had consented to a request to vacate Wharton’s death sentence, which the judge said was “not true.”

In his decision Goldberg admonished two top supervisors in Krasner’s office, Nancy Winkelman and Paul George, who were involved in seeking to overturn Wharton’s death sentence, saying they violated federal rules of procedure in a manner that was “egregious” and “exceptional.”  And though he declined to impose specific penalties against them — or levy financial penalties on the District Attorney’s Office, which he also said violated court rules — he ordered that Krasner personally write apology letters to four of the Harts’ relatives, including their daughter.

Prosecutors “directed representations to the Court that the Office had ‘carefully reviewed the facts’ when in fact that did not occur,” Goldberg wrote, adding: “If the District Attorney’s Office files [documents] on a misleading presentation of the facts, it attempts to misuse the Court’s power.”

This the same scam George Gascon is running in Los Angeles.