Krueger Off Stewart Case
In a surprise move, Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger has taken herself off Robert Kenneth Stewart’s capital trial on multiple charges of first degree murder.
Krueger e-mailed law-enforcement officers involved in the case and sent letters to families of eight people who were shot to death in a Carthage nursing home March 29, 2009. The Pilot obtained a copy from one of the recipients.
Stewart’s court-appointed lawyers had previously sought a court order removing Krueger on the grounds that she had represented Stewart’s mother while still in private practice. Her son had accused his mother of assaulting him, a charge she denies to this day. Krueger negotiated a plea in that case.
The attorneys’ motion was denied in Superior Court, but Krueger wanted to be sure she was acting according to state standards of professional conduct. She spoke with Alice Mine at the N.C. State Bar, and everything changed. It was decided that Krueger would have to leave the trial to others.
“In regards to the motion to have me removed from prosecuting the case, that motion was denied by the court,” she wrote in her letter. “However, after the hearing I discussed the matter with the North Carolina State Bar, which oversees and regulates the conduct of attorneys. Based on those discussions, it appears I will have a conflict in prosecuting this case. I cannot be personally involved in the prosecution of this case.”
Krueger has spent months in preparation for trial and in preliminary hearings. She said she regrets having to turn her back on this trial but that she has no choice.
“While it is a bitter disappointment to me that I cannot be involved in this prosecution, I can assure you that the case is in good hands,” Krueger wrote. “Peter Strickland, my senior assistant district attorney, has served as co-counsel in this case. Peter has been involved in numerous murder trials and has successfully prosecuted death penalty cases. He will take over as the lead prosecutor in the case. (Assistant District Attorney) Tiffany Bartholomew will assist him.”
The two prosecutors will have to be on their own from here on in.
“I will not be able to discuss the case with the two of them anymore,” she said.
Families will have the same contact in the DA’s office as before, Krueger wrote. They can reach her with any concerns about her leaving the case but not questions about the case itself.
Krueger has been in Raleigh much of the past week dealing with proposals in the General Assembly that she feels would hamper the work of the courts: a “consolidation plan” for district attorney offices and a proposal to cut 117 victim/witness legal assistant positions statewide.
However, as Strickland has been working with her on the Stewart case all along, Krueger does not fear her recusal would result in any postponement of the case.
“I don’t think this will delay the trial because Peter has been involved in the case from the beginning,” she said in an interview conducted via e-mail late Friday.
“The letter does sum up what I think/feel about the situation,” she said. “It is a bitter disappointment that I cannot personally prosecute this case. ... However, my ethical duty as an attorney surpasses my personal desire to prosecute any specific case.”
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, Krueger’s office could still handle the prosecution as long as she herself was “screened via a ‘Chinese firewall’” she said.
“Peter is an extremely competent prosecutor,” Krueger said. “I have complete faith in his ability to take over the reins as lead prosecutor in this case. ... Peter has been lead prosecutor in other capital cases, and was second chair in the Mario Phillips case in Moore County.”
Phillips has been on death row since his conviction in that case.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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