Colleen Janssen, the Wake County prosecutor whose father was kidnapped by a gang leader she prosecuted, has been put on paid leave while the district attorney looks into her misconduct on two unrelated cases.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman suspended the prosecutor Monday, almost a week after a damaging state Court of Appeals ruling highlighted evidence that Janssen manipulated and withheld in two robbery cases.
“Right now we are reviewing these two cases,” Freeman said Wednesday. “If we have reason to look further we will. At this time, we have no information to believe this was a pattern of conduct.”
Freeman also said she anticipated a review of Janssen’s actions by the N.C. State Bar, the agency that licenses lawyers in this state.
Defendants in the robbery cases contend that Janssen, an assistant Wake County district attorney, urged a Raleigh police detective to delay bringing drug charges against her key witness until after their trials.
A three-judge appellate panel issued a unanimous ruling on June 21 to overturn convictions in the cases of Bashiri Sandy and Henry Surpris.
The men had been convicted of robbery charges related to a shooting that occurred outside a North Raleigh town home on April 17, 2013. But the appellate judges ruled that Janssen’s misconduct violated their right to a fair trial.
Janssen corresponded, through her personal email account, with the investigator who planned to bring drug charges against her key witness, according to the ruling. She also failed to disclose information to defense attorneys who could have used it to raise questions about her witness, a man now convicted of marijuana trafficking.
Sandy and Surpris were accused of stealing $1,153 and a ring from Marcus Shu-Aib Smith and shooting him afterward outside his Brook Knoll Place home. At trial, Janssen contended that Sandy and Surpris went to Smith’s home, knowing he would have a large amount of cash on him because he was a “club promoter.”
Janssen disputed the defendants’ allegations that Smith was a marijuana dealer, though she had information from investigators that showed they had seized 150 pounds of marijuana from the place where he stashed his drugs two months before the trial of Surpris and Sandy, according to the appellate case.
At their trial in 2014, Sandy and Surpris said Smith was a marijuana dealer who had not come through with drugs they had purchased. Instead of going inside his home and disturbing his family to retrieve what he owed them on the night of the shooting, Smith gave the men the money and jewelry, according to the narrative of the accused. They contended that Smith shot at them as they were leaving his place. They went to Rex Hospital for treatment of their gunshot injuries and were arrested after that.
“I am not disputing that the defense has the right, if they can put on that evidence at some point, but as of right now, the concept that Mr. Smith has an ongoing marijuana operation is not in evidence,” Janssen argued when the defendants put forward their allegations about Smith.
Smith was arrested after the robbery trials and convicted on drug trafficking charges.
In the preparation for Smith’s federal trial, Janssen’s emails were discovered.
On July 27, 2014, an email from a Yahoo account went from Janssen to the Raleigh detective investigating Smith.
“I am ... reaching out to you because Marcus Smith is the victim in a fairly nasty home-invasion case of mine that is set to go to trial in the very near future, so I’d like to talk to you a bit about it, as well as educate myself on what your investigation entails, before anything too much further happens,” the Janssen email stated.
Freeman said this week that she had not determined whether Sandy and Surpris would be tried again.
The state Attorney General’s Office could seek a discretionary review of the appellate court ruling, questioning whether that venue was the correct place to consider requests for Sandy and Surpris for appropriate relief.
That decision has to be made by July 11.
The Court of Appeals ruling was issued the same day that Kelvin Melton was convicted of orchestrating the kidnapping of Janssen’s father in 2014, while trying to exact revenge on Colleen Janssen,
Colleen Janssen had prosecuted Melton in 2012 in a case that led to him being declared a violent habitual offender. That case resulted in a life prison term for Melton in state court.
Federal prosecutors contended at the kidnapping trial month that Melton, while in prison, had sent people by mistake to the the Wake County home where Janssen lived. That’s when he was kidnapped.
It is unclear whether the review of Janssen’s cases will have any impact on the Melton case.