Wake prosecutor resigns amid misconduct review
Posted July 8, 2016 12:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2016 2:03 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County prosecutor who was targeted for abduction by a gang leader she put behind bars for life resigned Friday amid a review of her actions in a separate case.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman placed Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen on paid leave last week after the state Court of Appeals determined that she withheld evidence from defense attorneys while prosecuting Barshiri Sandy and Henry Surpris in an armed robbery case.
"My resignation today from my position as assistant district attorney is an effort on my part to put an end to the distraction that this inquiry has caused for District Attorney Freeman and her staff," Janssen said in a statement. "I am honored to have served the citizens of Wake County for the past ten years and am thankful for the opportunity to prosecute those who commit crimes against the citizens of our county. I have always tried to conduct myself in a professional and ethical manner, and I am proud of the work I have done for an with our community."
Sandy and Surpris confronted Marcus Smith in his garage in April 2013 and exchanged gunfire with him before fleeing the scene, according to court records. Smith testified at trial that Sandy and Surpris robbed him of $1,153 in cash and a ring, while the two defendants testified that Smith was a drug dealer who hadn't delivered some marijuana they 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, according to court records.
But emails that came to light during a subsequent federal prosecution of Smith on drug trafficking charges show Janssen used a personal email account to communicate with a Raleigh police investigator before Sandy's and Surpris' trial about a raid on a drug house linked to Smith, asking him to delay pressing charges against Smith.
The Court of Appeals ruled Janssen violated the defendants' right to a fair trial by not informing their attorneys of the pending case against Smith, and the judges overturned the men's convictions.
Freeman thanked Janssen for her service but said prosecutors must uphold defendants' rights.
"In our pursuit of justice and our zeal to protect our community, we must hold strong to our objectivity and guarantee to each defendant the benefit of his or her rights. Our office remains committed to honoring the public trust," she said in a statement.
She hasn't said whether her office will retry the case.
The Court of Appeals ruling was issued the same day that a federal court jury convicted Kevin Melton of masterminding the kidnapping of Janssen's father two years ago.
Authorities said Melton used a cellphone smuggled into a state prison to order members of the Bloods street gang to kidnap Janssen, who had prosecuted him in 2012, but the crew went to the wrong address and grabbed her father instead.
The FBI monitored the phone conversations between Melton and his subordinates to pinpoint Frank Janssen's location and rescued him from an Atlanta apartment five days after he was taken from his Wake Forest home.