An Orange County, Ca., sex crimes prosecutor has resigned, saying he was unfairly disciplined over a case with possible connections to the abduction of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart, says the Los Angeles Times. The lawyer, Randy Payne, had been on paid leave for six months.
The incident involves James Witbaard, who was arrested in January 2002 on suspicion of groping two girls. In June, while Witbaard was free on bond, Smart was kidnapped in Salt Lake City, and a month later, Payne approved a plea bargain in which Witbaard pleaded guilty to sexual battery in exchange for a sentence of five years’ probation. In September, district attorney officials became concerned that Witbaard had ties to Utah and might have been involved in Smart’s abduction. Witbaard was later cleared of involvement in the Smart kidnapping.
Payne said his supervisor told him the plea bargain could create bad publicity if Witbaard were linked to the Smart abduction. “She said, ‘Do you have any idea how this could make Tony look?’ ” Payne recalled the supervisor saying about District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.