One of New York City’s top homicide prosecutors is re-trying a high-profile murder case even though a panel of judges found he engaged in prosecutorial misconduct the first time around, the I-Team has learned.
Six months ago, the murder conviction of Asim Martinez was vacated after the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division found Staten Island Assistant District Attorney Kyle Reeves improperly accused a key defense witness of lying on the stand in previous cases.
According to court papers filed by the Staten Island district attorney's office, Reeves called the witness a “whore” and a “hired gun” paid to lie.
Despite those comments, and the voiding of the Martinez murder conviction, Reeves is now assigned as lead prosecutor in the re-trial of Martinez.
“Mr. Reeves continues to prosecute the Martinez case because of his intimate familiarity with the facts, circumstances, and evidence in this case,” Douglas Auer, a spokesman for the Staten Island district attorney's office, said.
Some experts say examples like the Martinez case show there is not enough accountability for prosecutors who are found to have acted improperly.
This year, the New York State Legislature is considering a bill to create a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct. The 11-member body would publicly reprimand problem prosecutors; in some cases, it might have them suspended.
“There is no real check and balance on the prosecutor,” said Assemblyman Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn).
The Staten Island district attorney's office declined to say whether Reeves has been disciplined internally for his language in the Martinez case, calling it a “personnel matter.”
Reeves declined comment.
In a brief filed on Reeves’ behalf, the district attorney's office conceded that Reeves had been "too plain spoken" in some of his language, but said his behavior was otherwise "entirely within the boundaries of appropriate cross examination.”
The Martinez case isn’t the first in which Reeves has been accused of misconduct.
Eight years ago, while working for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, Reeves prosecuted Malik White on manslaughter charges. White had gotten into a basketball court fist fight with a rival player. That player later died in the hospital. Reeves pursued the manslaughter case against White despite informing the court on the eve of the trial about a medical malpractice suit in which the victim’s mother blamed doctors -- not White -- for her son’s death.
The judge said there was no evidence Reeves deliberately withheld information about the malpractice suit but he also said that the prosecutor should have known about the case earlier and therefore disclosed it earlier.
The judge declared a mistrial.
Reeves brought the case to a new trial and White was acquitted of all charges.
White is suing Reeves and the New York City, saying Reeves knew White was innocent and prosecuted him anyway. The lawsuit also claims Reeves knowingly concealed the malpractice suit.
“His actions could have cost me the rest of my life in jail,” White said.
The city says Reeves is protected by his prosecutorial discretion. But some experts say that’s just the problem: prosecutors have too much discretion when it comes to their work.
Jim Cohen, who teaches legal ethics at Fordham Law School, said prosecutors are almost never publicly disciplined.
“It’s really unusual for the individual prosecutor offender to be penalized in any way. Often they continue to be looked at as heroes within their own office because they fought a very hard fight, and everybody else is lying,” Cohen said.