Whenever someone is murdered in Seattle’s King County, three pagers go off simultaneously, alerting deputy prosecutors that one is needed at the crime scene, says the Seattle Times. Jeff Baird leads the team of seven trial lawyers who accompany police to homicide scenes. “I want you to be able to work the case hard for those crucial 36 to 48 hours when most cases are solved or unsolved,” he says. A decade ago, Baird pitched the idea of sending prosecutors to homicide scenes – an idea borrowed from prosecutors in Manhattan. Before the Most Dangerous Offender Project (MDOP) was formed here, detectives would investigate a case and, if they arrested a suspect, officers would deliver a stack of papers to a prosecutor, who had 72 hours to decide if there was sufficient evidence to charge someone with murder.
Many cases passed across the desks of several prosecutors in the time between the filing of charges and a trial, forcing homicide detectives to educate each lawyer about the nuances of a particular case. After watching the county’s homicide rate double between 1989 and 1994, Baird went to his boss, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, with a plan to have deputy prosecutors go with homicide detectives to crime scenes and allow them to stay on a case through to trial. Baird believed that by going to a crime scene, prosecutors would gain intimate knowledge of the evidence and could make smarter decisions about when to file murder charges. If the case went to trial, the prosecutor could also better relate the facts to jurors. As far as anyone knows, MDOP attorneys have never lost a murder case that went to court. Largely because of that success, Baird recently went to Maleng suggesting a spinoff unit to examine 550 unsolved slayings or “cold cases” committed over the past 30 years.