Looking for the “just” in justice


As regular readers know, I have major differences with Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner, especially with his non-enforcement or light enforcement on selected defendants.

Convict Marcus Perez (left) was misled by Judge Theodore A. McKee (Illustration: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Whether they get potential first-degree homicide charges greatly knocked down or gun charges that should result in jail being brushed off, they catch undeserved breaks.  

Lady Justice is blindfolded to exhibit neither fear nor favor, but sometimes she demonstrates an inability to see the truth. That results in unfair convictions or sentencing, as in the recent case of Robert McDowell, sentenced to life, as reported by Mensah M. Dean.  

In this case, the D.A.s office recognized the conviction came about because of flawed jury instructions by Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes that denied McDowell a fair trial. (In an earlier case, Cardwell was reproached by the state Supreme Court for improperly changing a trial transcript.) Rather than retry him, Krasner allowed McDowell to plead guilty to a reduced charge which made him immediately eligible for parole.

Krasner acted as he should — as an officer of the court to dispense justice, rather merely as a prosecutor with the tunnel vision of just locking people up.

Anyone with half a brain understands any justice system designed and operated by humans is subject to human error.

Sad to say, most D.A.s are more concerned with defending convictions — even those by predecessors and even when obviously wrong — than they are with correcting errors. Krasner is different in that respect.

This brings me to Marcus Perez, 50, a confessed, convicted murderer who has been serving a life term since 1990. He’s serving life due to a judge’s mistake and there have been a couple of very curious irregularities in his case.

First, the irrefutable facts. One, Perez is guilty of the crime,  committed when he was a stupid, hot-headed teenager who shot a man while helping a friend collect a $150 debt. I know this is true because he told me so.

Second, Common Pleas Judge Theodore A. McKee made a serious mistake when explaining the life sentence to Perez. I know this is true because the judge told me so.

Perez accepted a plea bargain on the judge’s assurance that “life” doesn’t mean life, he could expect to serve 17 ½ to 35 years. He would not die in jail. 

The judge was wrong, “dead wrong,” as he told me. Pennsylvania’s sentencing rules had just changed and it slipped the judge’s mind, and neither defense attorney nor the D.A. caught it. By the time McKee realized his mistake the case had passed from his hands and he was powerless to reverse it.

Had Perez known “life meant life,” he would have rejected the plea bargain and would have taken his chances at trial, he told me. 

McKee had a spotless judicial record and later was later elevated to chief judge of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. He is ready to testify to his mistake, as he confessed his error to me for publication. He is distraught. 

With the judge prepared to come forward for Perez, getting a fix should have been a minor issue using what is called a PCRA — the post conviction relief act.

“Should,” but not did, because earlier D.A.s fought the PCRA.

One reason they used to challenge the PCRA was a reading of the trial transcript. 

Four years after the trial, Jerome Teresinski of D.A. Seth Williams’ staff, contacted the court recorder to fix a “typo” in the transcript, which changed McKee’s words to make them less favorable to Perez’s case.

Requested changes in the transcript must be shown to the trial judge first and then the defense. They were not in this case. McKee told me the “correction” altered what he actually said. Teresinksi was not involved in the original trial, and is a godfather to one of Williams’ two daughters. It is all very fishy.

He declined to speak to me about who requested him to make the “correction” to the trial record, the same act for which Judge Cardwell was admonished. Williams accused me of wanting to get Perez a “get out of jail for free” card. 

As I wrote at the time, this stinks of prosecution wrongdoing, but when Perez managed to get his case before a judge, to my amazement, the judge was totally disinterested in the corrupt change of the changed trial record, let alone another judge’s error that has blockaded Perez’s access to the sentence he was promised.

For anyone to have respect for the justice system, it must be just.

Perez has another hearing coming up, and it appears Krasner will not fight it. He might even support it.

That should result in Perez getting the sentence he was promised 30 years ago. At worst, he would have another five years to serve. At best, he would be eligible for parole. 

If Krasner does the right thing, I will lead the applause.

9 thoughts on “Looking for the “just” in justice”

  1. HAPPY WEDNESDAY !!!
    my pallie,
    You are constantly full of surprises ! Because of your consistency over the years, you have won favor with reputable people. True again on the other side. If they didn’t like you before, they’re not about to change now.
    Good for yoy, Stu. Justice will be served.
    Tony

  2. Thank you for this article. I will definitely praise Mr. Krasner if Marcus Perez finally gets the justice he deserves.

  3. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    You make a convincing argument. It’s hard to imagine why the D.A. wouldn’t get involved.

    H.G. Callaway

  4. “Franz Kafka, call your office!” The ‘system’ should NOT take a man’s life so blithely. Good for you, Stu.

  5. Thank you for supporting Marcus Perez through the years for the fight to see justice done. I’m a child hood friend who knows the corruption that occurred in his case. Marcus has a multitude of family and friends that love him and will continue to support him .

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