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The Times
  • Prosecutors: Living with threats part of job

  • Some criminals might never forget the prosecutor who put them behind bars.

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  • Some criminals might never forget the prosecutor who put them behind bars.
    So, while prosecutors seek to hold people accountable for crimes they commit, that job occasionally can make them the target of threats from those who want payback.
    And, as the recent killings of a district attorney and his wife in Texas show, threats to a prosecutor’s safety are taken very seriously.
    “You come to understand that it’s part of being a prosecutor, but you never get used to it, I can tell you that,” Herkimer County District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter said recently. “What happened in Texas just puts a face to the reality of it.”
    No motive has been released for the killings of Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland and one of his assistant prosecutors two months earlier. But authorities haven’t ruled out possible involvement by the white supremacist group Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, according to news reports.
    Every day a prosecutor walks out the door, he or she knows they could encounter anybody who is family, friends or an associate of somebody they have prosecuted. And no matter how fair a prosecutor tries to be, some of those people might never accept that they have to pay a price for their crimes.
    “They take it personal, when it’s never personal,” said Michael Daley, who was Herkimer County district attorney from 1993 until 2002. Before that, he prosecuted violent criminals through the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office.
    “It was never personal with me because if it ever becomes personal, then you shouldn’t be handling the case,” Daley said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people understand that you’re just doing your job. It’s that 1 percent that takes it as a personal affront.”
    Even though Daley was the thorn in the side of a number of violent people associated with organized crime in the Mohawk Valley during the 1970s and 1980s – including Donato Nappi and Dominic Bretti – he said none of them ever threatened him.
    In organized crime, Daley explained, it was taboo to target police or prosecutors because it would only prompt the “heat” to come down on them.
    But it was the more run-of-the-mill criminals – from drug sellers to arsonists and rapists – that seemed to be compelled to voice such threats, Daley said.
    And no matter how much time has passed, Daley said the state prison system still alerts him from time to time about threats and “contracts” that surface from behind the walls of a correctional facility.
    Then, whenever someone is released from prison who had threatened Daley in the past, he said the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision usually tells him where the person is supposed to be living and what that person looks like.
    Page 2 of 2 - During Daley’s career, police have had to take steps to watch over him in the event that a person followed through on the threats. In one case while Daley was Herkimer County district attorney, someone was prosecuted and convicted for conspiring to commit arson.
    It was one such threat in the mid-1980s that prompted Daley, while he was a prosecutor in Oneida County, to sign up for a pistol permit. More than 25 years later, Daley said he still arms himself.
    “If you’re a prosecutor and you don’t have a permit to carry a weapon, you’re crazy,” he said.
    While these threats are never treated with a “cavalier” attitude, they are assessed and responded to accordingly, Daley and Carpenter said. But as long as someone is a prosecutor, they understand they cannot ever allow them to intimidate them or affect how they might otherwise handle a case.
    “I would have quit a long time ago if it affected me to that extent that I couldn’t do this job,” Carpenter said.
    Daley now is more aware of his surroundings, even years after being a prosecutor, but he’s never allowed those threats to overwhelm him with paranoia.
    “If you let yourself live in fear, they already beat you,” Daley said. “You’ve already lost, and they won.”
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