Is DA Bragg seeking a murder dismissal because of a $500K woke campaign contribution?
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed a motion Monday to dismiss the murder indictment against Tracy McCarter, a Manhattan nurse who fatally stabbed her estranged husband during a March 2020 argument. But he should have recused himself from the case — after his public position against prosecuting it earned him campaign cash.
McCarter claims self-defense as a result of spousal abuse, but when prosecutors presented the case to the grand jury, she declined the opportunity to testify and present her defense, and the grand jury indicted her for murder. In fact, the defendant now claims the deceased accidentally “fell” on the knife. The judge withheld a decision on Bragg’s Monday motion to dismiss.
Prosecutors sent the grand jury the case in September 2020, when Cy Vance, Bragg’s predecessor, was in charge. The Manhattan DA’s office investigated and made the decision to send it to the grand jury. It was, and in spite of Bragg still is, a good office.
Experienced career prosecutors would have handled a case like this, especially since it received a lot of press attention pre-indictment, and they had months to investigate the defendant’s claims. A judge inspected the grand-jury minutes and found them sufficient. Another, Judge Diane Kiesel, rejected two of Bragg’s attempts to allow the defendant to plead to lesser charges, finding both proposed dispositions illegal.
But Bragg during his primary campaign for Manhattan DA had taken a vocal stance on the case, tweeting, “I #StandWithTracy,” and implying he would dismiss what he called the “unjust” case against McCarter if he won the job. That stand was enough to secure him the support of George Soros and the advocacy group Color of Change, which endorsed him and gave a $500,000 independent-expenditure campaign contribution in May 2021.
I don’t know much about this case beyond what I’ve read in the newspapers and court papers. But I probably know more about it now than DA candidate Bragg knew when in September 2020 he “stood with” the defendant. And that’s what’s really wrong about this whole situation.
Bragg’s campaign promise on this case and the fact his campaign benefited to the tune of half a million dollars give the appearance of impropriety. In other words, it appears his actions in this case could be payback for the campaign contribution and support he got from Color of Change, a group that wants this case dismissed, rather than a decision based on the merits.
I am not saying that’s true, and Bragg may be right in his analysis of the case. But it looks awful. Rebuffed by the court in his efforts to get an illegal, no-jail, ultimately no-record-of-conviction plea, Bragg now seeks to dismiss the case, as Color of Change continues to pressure him, even presenting his office a petition with 20,000 signatures demanding Bragg dismiss the case.
The mere fact he’s been in office 11 months and is still struggling with this case suggests there’s more substance to the prosecution’s case than Color of Change claims. If this case were so clear cut, don’t you think the presiding justice would simply grant the plea deal or dismissal at the first instance? Or resolve this case the old-fashioned way — by jury trial?
To avoid all this, Bragg should have recused himself from any final decision-making in this case. He could have created a wall between his staff and himself and allowed a proper re-evaluation of this case, with the decision made by career prosecutors not beholden to the people who spent half a million dollars to get Bragg elected.
But this is the problem when people “try” cases in the media and on the Internet. You get summaries of cases, usually prepared by zealous ideologues or attorneys representing a client. Many of these attorneys will ultimately sue the city or state if they successfully get the case dismissed, pocketing a third of the settlement. Their press releases have little neutral detail but all the spin in the world.
The narrative “Prosecutors and cops are bad and racist” and “Defense attorneys and defendants are good” makes for great tweets, but it doesn’t play out in the real world of criminal justice. Could it be that Bragg got sucked in by the hype and now is trying to find a way out?
Bragg handled this terribly. It looks sloppy at best and crooked at worst. It is one thing to argue policy during a political campaign. It is quite another to say you are going to dispose of a specific case in a particular way and then accept enormous amounts of campaign money from groups advocating that outcome.
It may be that this is not a quid pro quo for a campaign contribution. But it sure looks bad.
Jim Quinn was executive district attorney in the Queens DA’s Office, where he served for 42 years.