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Apparent injustice demands more explanation

February 17, 2017

Two serious cases in the past two years involving Sussex County residents raise questions about justice, scrutiny and transparency.

In one case, state prosecutors leveled charges against five men allegedly involved with mishandling hundreds of thousands of gaming dollars at American Legion Post 28 near Millsboro. The men's photographs and the charges were spread throughout local and state media. But then, after about a month, charges were withdrawn, but only because, officials said, the case was bigger than they originally thought.

After several more months of investigation, prosecutors reversed course completely, saying all charges were withdrawn and the case was being closed. With little explanation, officials announced there was not enough evidence to charge the men and proceed. Especially disturbing was conflicting information. One official said the State Auditor's Office was involved with the investigation. State Auditor Tom Wagner said his office had never been involved.

The second case involves the murder of Rogelio Martinez-Hernandez in Milton in late 2014. One man was arrested and spent 20 months in jail before prosecutors reversed course, dropped charges and announced the accused was a free man. An Attorney General's Office spokesman said information provided recently by witnesses made it apparent there was not enough evidence to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

In each of these cases, which have placed a dark cloud over all involved, the Attorney General's Office has been noticeably quiet.

Clearly there were problems which led to, apparently, premature or unsubstantiated charges.

Each of these situations alone begs for an investigation and an open airing of the findings. Who was responsible for these arrests, and what led to errors? Together they reveal an even larger problem of how investigations proceed, how they are analyzed and at what point they lead to serious charges.

We all want to know we are being treated fairly, responsibly and professionally. Our justice system depends on public confidence and trust. When serious mistakes occur, top officials must take the lead in exposing them, explaining them and publicly demonstrating the ship's course will be righted.

 

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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