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Letter: DA’s Comments About Defendant Contradicts Presumed Innocence

(This letter is in response to the article “Grand Jury Indicts Former Nassau Corrections Officer on 80 Counts” that appeared in the Friday, Sept. 10 edition of the Levittown Tribune.)

Commenting on the indictment of a former Nassau County corrections officer from Levittown, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said, “This man was supposed to help women with their problems, but instead he preyed on their vulnerabilities for his own sick needs...he terrorized these women by abusing his limited jailhouse power.” [“Grand Jury Indicts Former Nassau Corrections Officer on 80 Counts” Levittown Tribune, Sept. 10, 2010]. The article notes that “the charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.”

In what sense is the defendant “presumed innocent” given the definitive nature of Rice’s statements and the fact that his name and photograph have appeared in his hometown newspaper? I mean, she didn’t simply say that there were accusations against the defendant serious enough to warrant a grand jury indictment. She said “preyed on,” “terrorized,” and “abused.” How’s that a presumption of anything else other than guilt?

And if the defendant is acquitted at trial, will Kathleen Rice face a libel suit given that her statement was intended to cause financial damages (hard to earn a living in prison) and will cause future financial damages because this man will probably never get a decent job again? Of course not. Public officials are exempt from being sued for libel, candidates are exempt from the laws that govern false advertisement, and the current understanding of the First Amendment allows the media to repeat unproven accusations. I don’t know if the defendant in this case is guilty of the charges leveled against him. I would, however, caution readers to recollect the Duke University rape case in which no crime ever took place, in which the accusations were false, and in which the district attorney in that case fabricated the “evidence.” It was difficult to read a newspaper account back then and not think a serious crime had been committed and that the accused were as guilty as sin and the only reason they are not currently serving time in prison for a crime that was never committed is because their family’s financial resources allowed for an independent investigation.

Most disquieting, and worthy of the attention of the voters of New York State, is that Rice was seeking the office of Attorney General and while she has a number of convictions on her résumé with the Nassau DA’s office, her statements in this case, and others, call those into question. Let’s not forget that this is the same DA who slandered innocent persons falsely accused of DWI by refusing to remove their names and faces from Nassau’s “Wall of Shame” even after it had been determined that they were innocent.

Far from being a female role model that someone like my daughter could look up to, Kathleen Rice is the embodiment of the stereotypical vindictive harpy who’ll stop at nothing to sate her ambition, to address her own “sick needs.” New York State doesn’t need Lady Macbeth as its next attorney general. It needs someone of moral character.

Paul Manton