The Memphis Flyer newspaper has a terrific new article up on a story we’ve been following here at the Open File. The story involves Tom Henderson, the veteran Memphis Assistant District Attorney who was recently censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court for his misconduct during the prosecution of Michael Rimmer.
A judge found that Henderson made “blatantly false, inappropriate and ethically questionable” statements to the Court and Michael Rimmer’s defense counsel about the existence of exculpatory evidence and “purposefully misled counsel with regard to the evidence.” Henderson also hid exculpatory evidence that he was obligated to disclose.
Henderson’s boss, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, continues to downplay the seriousness of what Henderson did. According to the Flyer article, Weirich’s view is, in essence, that Henderson “simply forgot about a piece of evidence in the capital murder case, that not disclosing it correctly was a ‘human error,’ and his crime amounts to a clerical mistake.” Weirich also told the Flyer that other than removing Henderson from the reprosecution of the Rimmer case, “no further punishment is planned.”
In other words, a judge has found that a veteran prosecutor in Weirich’s office lied to a court and an opposing counsel and hid evidence in violation of the Constitution of the United States and the rules governing attorney behavior in Tennessee, and Amy Weirich just doesn’t think that is a serious thing worthy of a significant response. Weirich is happy to prosecute all sorts of people for breaking rules – and to subject them to incredibly harsh punishments, even death – but when a veteran prosecutor in her office is found to have engaged in illegal and unethical conduct she is happy to look the other way.
Weirich said, “Those outside of this office may not understand what a punishment [removing Henderson from the Rimmer retrial] is, but it was a huge step, and it was a tough conversation to have.” When DA’s break rules “tough conversations” and slaps on the wrists all of a sudden become “huge steps.” I bet there are a lot of small time law-violators who Weirich’s office has sent to prison for years who would like to explain to her how disgusting and incredibly self-pitying that sounds.
As the Flyer article notes, contrary to Weirich, plenty of people in the Memphis legal community see Henderson’s misconduct in the Rimmer case as a serious matter and one that feels consistent with broader patterns of Henderson’s behavior and personality:
Others, including judges and attorneys who spoke to the Flyer, said Henderson suppressed the evidence on purpose to win his case, and many doubted it was the first time he’d done it in his career. This kind of discipline against him has been a long time coming, some said. He got a slap on the wrist with a plea deal to probably save himself from being disbarred, attorneys said. Some criminal justice insiders said the matter has shaken faith in Weirich’s leadership, faith in the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, and even faith in the county’s justice system….
DA Weirich can try to pretend that Henderson’s actions in the Rimmer case were “human error” and an isolated incident. In doing so she abets Henderson’s illegal and unethical behavior.
The article in the Memphis Flyer is terrific. Read the whole thing here.