Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department deserves much of the blame for the collapse of the Detroit terrorism case, legal experts said after the government asked a judge to dismiss terrorism charges against two defendants and retry them for document fraud, concludes the Detroit Free Press. “Senior officials at Justice didn’t vet the case, didn’t ask tough questions of the line prosecutors or adequately supervise them,” said Prof. Peter Margulies of Roger Williams Law School in Rhode Island. “The case should never have gotten this far. Although the line prosecutors bear some responsibility, the Justice Department needs to stand up and be much more critical about its handling of the case,” said Margulies, who has written extensively about terrorism and prosecutorial ethics.
Margulies and others said the Justice Department is trying to scapegoat former lead prosecutor Richard Convertino, whom it faults for withholding crucial documents from defense lawyers, allowing witnesses to give misleading testimony, and other questionable conduct. The Justice Department on Tuesday said last year’s trial was so riddled with prosecutorial errors, there was no choice but to toss out the terrorism convictions. “The government believes that it should not prolong the resolution of this matter, pursuing hearings it has no reasonable prospect of winning,” acting U.S. Attorney Craig Morford told U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is considering the defendants’ request for a new trial. Rosen is expected to dismiss the terrorism charges as early as today. Morford and the Justice Department declined to say whether Convertino faces disciplinary action or possible criminal charges. Convertino’s lawyer defended his client’s conduct. “Rick Convertino fairly and responsibly prosecuted this case with the safety and protection of his community uppermost in his mind in the wake of 9/11,” attorney William Sullivan of Washington, D.C., said.