‘Everyone is Guilty All the Time’

Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich discusses the dismissal of disciplinary charges against her during a news conference on Monday, March 20, 2017 in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Noura Jackson spent nine years in prison after being convicted of murdering her mother, despite a complete lack of physical proof — and other evidence that could have been used to support her claim of innocence was withheld by prosecutor Amy Weirich. This isn’t the first time Weirich has been found to have withheld evidence. And according to other lawyers who spoke with Emily Bazelon, whose impressively deep dive into the case appears in The New York Times Magazine, the convict-or-else attitude that drives prosecutorial misconduct is alive and well in Weirich’s office.

Weirich is now the district attorney, overseeing all prosecutions in Shelby County, Tennessee.

When Amy Weirich learned to try cases in Shelby County in the 1990s, her office had a tradition called the Hammer Award: a commendation with a picture of a hammer, which supervisors or section chiefs typically taped on the office door of trial prosecutors who won big convictions or long sentences. When Weirich became the district attorney six years ago, she continued the Hammer Awards. I spoke to several former Shelby County prosecutors who told me that the reward structure fostered a win-at-all-costs mind-set, fueled by the belief that ‘‘everyone is guilty all the time,’’ as one put it. ‘‘The measure of your worth came down to the number of cases you tried and the outcomes,’’ another said. (They asked me not to use their names because they still work as lawyers in Memphis.) One year, the second former prosecutor told me, he dismissed the charges in multiple murder cases. ‘‘The evidence just didn’t support a conviction,’’ he said. ‘‘‘But no, I didn’t get credit from leadership. In fact, it hurt me. Doing your prosecutorial duty in that office is not considered helpful.’’ Weirich disagrees, saying ‘‘Every assistant is told to do the right thing every day for the right reasons.’’

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