Defendant says ex-Wake prosecutor who withheld evidence deserved stiffer punishment
Posted March 30
Raleigh, N.C. — One of two men who spent about three years behind bars because a former Wake County prosecutor withheld evidence during his trial said Thursday that he doesn't think she was punished enough for her actions.
Colleen Janssen resigned last July as a Wake County assistant district attorney, and Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens last week ruled that she cannot work as a prosecutor or provide legal representation to any government agency for two years for her violations of the code of professional conduct for attorneys.
"When you do something wrong, you have to take responsibility for it," Barshiri Sandy said. "I've done stuff in the past, and I had to pay the consequences for what I did, and it's like she got a slap on the wrist."
Sandy and Henry Surpris were convicted in October 2014 of robbing Marcus Smith in April 2013. The two men confronted Smith in his garage and exchanged gunfire with him before fleeing the scene, according to court records.
Smith testified at trial that the men robbed him of $1,153 in cash and a ring, while the defense argued that Smith was a drug dealer who hadn't delivered some marijuana the men had bought. Smith denied any involvement with drugs, and Janssen repeatedly said during testimony and in her closing argument that there was no evidence to back up Sandy's and Surpris' claims.
During an appeal of the case, however, emails surfaced that showed Janssen knew Smith was the focus of a drug investigation and asked Raleigh police and a federal prosecutor that they not file charges against him until after her trial.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled last June that she violated the defendants' right to a fair trial by not informing their attorneys of the pending case against Smith. The judges overturned the men's convictions, and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman then dropped the charges against them.
"If we had a fair shot, we would nave never been convicted," Sandy said, adding that he feels like he has a second chance now.
Janssen testified during her three-day disciplinary hearing that she had lapses in judgment during the trial because she was still emotionally reeling from her father's kidnapping six months earlier.
Janssen's father was abducted from his Wake Forest home in April 2014 by a group of gang members under the direction of Kelvin Melton, whom Janssen had prosecuted in 2012. Authorities said Melton used a phone smuggled to him in prison to provide instructions to his subordinates, including how to kill Frank Janssen, dispose of his body and clear up all evidence of the crime.
FBI agents were able to track Melton's phone calls and rescued Frank Janssen from an Atlanta apartment five days after he was kidnapped.
Colleen Janssen said she never meant to cause any harm, and Stephens didn't suspend her law license or mete out any other punishment because he agreed that she had developed "tunnel vision" in prosecuting a home invasion case because of her personal circumstances.
"She got a lot of public scrutiny on that. I don't wish that on any lawyer," said Deb Newton, who defended Sandy at trial.
Newton said she is less concerned with Janssen's punishment than she is about sending a message.
"(Sandy) was actually charged with something he didn't do because of a prosecutor who was cheating. Everyone should worry about that," she said.
Through her attorney, Janssen declined to comment Thursday, saying she is simply trying to move on with her life.