RALEIGH, N.C. — Two prosecutors were punished for withholding evidence in a trial that put an innocent man on death row.
On Friday, a State Bar disciplinary panel found by not turning over witness statements, Debra Graves and David Hoke violated three judicial codes of conduct. The actions of the former prosecutors helped send Alan Gell to death row, but the panel believes it was an honest mistake.
For that reason and others, both lawyers will keep their law licenses.
"We are going to impose the smallest discipline that we can, which is a reprimand," said Stephen Culbreath, who was on the State Bar panel.
A reprimand is a written form of discipline. The witness statements that were withheld had a large role in the eventual acquittal of Alan Gell. Gell said a slap on the wrist is not enough to ensure another innocent person does not end up on death row.
"When I got my death sentence, they were slapping high-fives and hugged each other and patted each other and I shed a tear. Here I am again, the system let me down," Gell said.
The panel said the attorneys' remorse helped them decide on the lenient punishment. Gell's mother does not believe Hoke and Graves are regretful at all.
"They've never showed remorse because they've never told my son that they were sorry for taking 10 years of his life. They never told us they were sorry so where is the remorse," said Jeanette Johnson, Gell's mother. "They're sorry. Yeah, because they got caught."
Hoke and Graves did not comment after their punishment, but their attorney said they were relieved to finally tell their side of the story publicly. The attorney for Hoke and Graves believes what happened Friday opens the door for other attorneys to be punished every time they make an honest mistake resulting in a new trial.