Wake County assistant district attorney Colleen Janssen
If the name Colleen Janssen sounds familiar, it's because she's been, tangentially, in the news lately.
On Tuesday, a federal jury found
gang leader Kelvin Melton guilty of masterminding the kidnapping of Janssen's father, Frank Janssen, in April of 2014. Colleen Janssen, the prosecutor in a 2012 case that sent Melton to prison for life for attempted murder was the intended target in the botched kidnapping, federal prosecutors successfully argued.
But on the same day Melton was found guilty, three North Carolina Court of Appeals judges found that Colleen Janssen committed prosecutorial misconduct in another, unrelated case that she was trying for the state beginning in October, 2014. Janssen was not, however, named in the court's ruling but referred to as "the ADA."
The state's witness in that case was Marcus Smith, who a Raleigh police detective had been investigating during the summer of 2014 for trafficking marijuana. Smith was testifying against two men who he claimed robbed him at gunpoint of a ring and $1,153 cash in April, 2013.
The defendants, Barshiri Sandy and Henry Surpris, argued that Smith was a drug dealer and they had gone to his house to collect marijuana from him that was owed them. During the encounter, Smith was shot in the arm but managed to grab a gun himself and shoot both Sandy and Surpris.
Sandy and Surpris fled in a getaway vehicle driven by Bryant Baldwin, who claimed he was not at the scene, then testified against Sandy and Surpris when evidence pinned him there. Though the defendants argued that they had gone to confront Smith about the marijuana he owed them and not to rob him, Sandy and Surpris were convicted of all of the charges related to the armed robbery that were brought against them. Around the same time, Smith was indicted by the federal government for trafficking large amounts of marijuana.
Sandy and Surpris appealed. The court found that Janssen, the lead assistant district attorney, was fully aware that RPD was investigating Smith while the trial was ongoing because she had been emailing with the lead police detective between July and October through a private account. In emails Janssen actually encouraged the detective to hold off on arresting Smith until after the armed robbery trial. During the trial, she called Smith as her key witness to provide testimony that he was not trafficking drugs
Below is the Court of Appeals' ruling overturning Sandy's and Surpris's convictions. The emails between Janssen and the detective, which she withheld from the defendants' attorneys until after the trial despite their requests, begin on page 12.
Obviously Janssen's misconduct in this case raises questions about other cases she has tried— including Melton's 2012 trial for attempted murder— and about the culture at the Wake County courthouse. Check the blog for updates to this story.