MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Plea deals by prosecutors are under scrutiny in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting spree in Memphis allegedly committed by a suspect who was allowed out of prison early by pleading to lesser charges.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called out cases like that of Ezekiel Kelly, who got out of prison five months ago after serving time for a charge of aggravated assault that had been pleaded down from attempted murder.
“We had an offender who had a plea deal down to a lesser offense go on a killing spree in West Tennessee,” Lee said.
WREG asked new Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy whether he’d handle plea deals differently than his predecessor.
Plea deals take on many shapes and forms, from defendants for violent crimes like Kelly to defendants in sex crimes like Silas Gaither and misconduct in office like former MPD officer Eric Kelly.
WREG spoke with former District Attorney Amy Weirich about the older Ezekiel Kelly case. “We had an uncooperative victim,” she said, leading them to consider whether they would have to drop the charge.
“The fact we were able to get any kind of guilty plea, given the change in circumstances, was surprising,” Weirich said.
A 2019 WREG investigation found less than 0.1 percent of Shelby County cases go to trial. We asked Mulroy whether he anticipated his numbers would change from that level.
Mulroy wouldn’t commit to any guiding policy for plea deals.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “We’re going to treat each case, case by case, based on the facts and circumstances.”
Asked whether his office would move forward with a plea deal if the victim’s family is not in agreement, he answered:
“You can’t give any one actor an absolute veto. We’re going to take into account what the victims and victim’s family wants, and give it great weight. But at the end of the day, the decision has to be first in the prosecutions’ hands,” he said.
Mulroy also said he wants to focus on crime prevention and will be making some proposals in the next few weeks.