A team of federal prosecutors charged with promoting “consistency and fairness” in death penalty cases has been hurling on-the-record accusations against one another — from neglecting boxes of evidence to destroying interview notes — and defense attorneys want to know why this is the first they’re hearing about the alleged misconduct, The Intercept reports. A recent internal dispute and civil lawsuit prompted some members of the Capital Case Section to speak up about serious misconduct in some death penalty cases. In 2016, federal prosecutor Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss sued the Justice Department, alleging supervisors in the Capital Case Section discriminated against her and retaliated when she filed a complaint. A judge tossed out her lawsuit in June, but she intends to appeal.
Defense attorneys are questioning the capital case unit’s overall integrity. “It is safe to assume that if Ms. Rodriguez-Coss had never filed her gender-discrimination suit, the government never would have disclosed even the limited information it has now provided,” defense attorneys wrote to a judge. James Peterson, who still works on the death penalty team, allegedly destroyed interview notes he took as part of an ongoing murder case in Indiana. The defendant’s attorney would have never known that the interviews happened in the first place — much less about the possibility of destroyed evidence — if it weren’t for Amanda Haines, who retired from the team in 2017 and submitted a sworn statement in support of Rodriguez-Coss’s lawsuit. In an affidavit, Haines, who worked for the Justice Department for about two decades, said she brought concerns to her supervisors about the way some of her male colleagues handled cases, but they did nothing.