The Shelby County District Attorney General’s office is set to undergo what could be a sea change after voters decided to replace incumbent Amy Weirich, a Republican, with Democratic challenger Steve Mulroy.
Promising reform of the district attorney’s office, Mulroy ran on a progressive platform, often targeting Weirich for past prosecutorial misconduct and his failure to reduce crime rates in Shelby County.
While campaigning earlier on Thursday, Mulroy said his top priorities if elected would include diversifying office, creating a conviction review unit and re-examining bail policies.
“I think people need to understand that I’m not anti-police, I don’t want to defund anything,” Mulroy said, responding to some of Weirich’s ads during the campaign. “In fact, I want to spend more on the police, hire more police, train them better, pay them better and refocus on violent crime because that has to be our number one priority.
A law professor at the University of Memphis since 2000, Mulroy, 58, is also a former civil rights attorney for the US Department of Justice and a former federal prosecutor. It was his college work that brought him to Memphis, where he became known for his suffrage activism and for working to save the beloved Libertyland amusement park. From 2006 to 2011, he served as Shelby County Commissioner.
Weirich has served as district attorney general for Shelby County since 2011, when she was appointed to the position by the then-governor. Bill Haslam. She joined the district attorney’s office in 1991 as a courtroom prosecutor, rising through the ranks to become an assistant district attorney, the first woman to hold that position.
Now 57, Weirich was easily re-elected in 2012 and elected to a full eight-year term in 2014. Her supporters describe her as tough on crime, praising her for her advocacy of laws on “truth in sentencing” that do away with parole, causing those convicted of certain crimes to spend their entire sentence behind bars.
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During her campaign, she aired radio ads of Deborah Marion, mother of former Memphis basketball star Lorenzen Wright, and Andy Rainer, father of slain Rhodes student Andrew “Drew” Rainer. during a home invasion. Both parents expressed their support for Weirich in the advertisements.
Mulroy, on the other hand, has won the support of high-profile national figures, including EGOT winner John Legend, rapper and actor Common and civil rights lawyer Ben Crump. And, he was joined at lunch by family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake, black men and women whose stories have spread across the country after they were killed or seriously injured. by the police.
In his campaign against Weirich, Mulroy has advocated for sweeping policy changes, from establishing a conviction review unit to reducing reliance on transfers of minors to adult court to defending a bail reform.
Weirich continued to tout his advocacy for “truth in sentencing” legislation, which was approved by the General Assembly in April.
She spoke proudly of the community prosecution model she established with three prosecutors working in police stations, how her office in 2018 stopped prosecuting people driving with revoked licenses solely for financial reasons, and how in 2019 she implemented a vertical prosecution model, allowing one prosecutor and team to work on a case from start to finish.
But his last 11 years in power have been marred by controversy. She received a private reprimand regarding the Noura Jackson prosecution, and Jackson’s second-degree murder conviction was overturned, with Jackson entering a plea from Alford to a reduced charge of intentional homicide in 2015.
Shelby County also transfers more youths to adult court than any other county in Tennessee, and a disproportionate number of them are black, which a federal survey called “toxic to African-American youth.” .
And there have been issues regarding disclosure of evidence and reimbursement of witnesses in the cases of Vern Braswell, Andrew Thomas and Pamela Moses.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.