MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A lot of local officials have been shining a light on the criminal justice system in the wake of a gruesome week of crime in Memphis.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland spoke about the new “Truth in Sentencing” law that he and former District Attorney Amy Weirich supported. He said it would’ve ensured Ezekiel Kelly, the suspect in a deadly shooting rampage that put the entire city on lockdown, served his entire three-year sentence rather than just 11 months for aggravated assault.
“Had he served his entire sentence, he would still be in prison today and these four people would be alive,” Strickland said.
But what he didn’t say is Kelly was actually accused of attempted murder, a much more serious crime that can lead to 25 years in prison.
Kelly, like so many others, got a plea deal.
In fact, a WREG investigation in 2019 found less than .1 percent of cases go to trial.
“The vast majority of cases are negotiated and guilty pleas entered,” defense attorney Leslie Ballin said.
WREG spoke with now-former District Attorney Weirich about it in 2019. She said plea deals are offered because the case often wouldn’t result in a trial conviction.
“When we started trying to track down witnesses and get them to come down here and testify to what they saw, what they heard, it’s a different story if they don’t want to cooperate,” Weirich said.
But there’s no denying the pattern allows suspects more freedom.
Take a totally different case, like that of Andrew Crosby. Crosby was originally charged with felony sexual battery, but given a plea deal for misdemeanor assault, which allowed him to avoid sex offender registries and to have the charge dropped from his record in two years.
Families said they want these deals to end.
“It makes me feel very angry cause it’s not fair to the families to not have any say-so in the plea deals,” said Tara Thomas, whose son was murdered in 2015.
New Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy will now get to decide how to handle cases and whether to continue offering so many plea deals.
WREG requested an interview with him Friday but he was unavailable. We emailed questions and will let you know if and when he responds.