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Attorney general could prosecute more St. Louis murders under plan Gardner opposes

Attorney general could prosecute more St. Louis murders under plan Gardner opposes

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JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis County lawmaker wants the attorney general to be able to intervene in St. Louis murder and carjacking cases, something St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner opposes.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said giving Attorney General Eric Schmitt the authority to swoop into St. Louis cases would boost the state’s crime-fighting efforts in the city, where there were 194 killings last year.

The legislation is also a not-so-subtle jab at Gardner, a Democrat who has refused cases from certain officers, and who has said the city can’t “arrest or prosecute” its way out of its crime problem.

The Post-Dispatch reported in September that 65 prosecutors had left the circuit attorney’s office since Gardner took office in January 2017. Court data showed the number of dropped cases was the highest it had been in a decade.

“We need to make sure that these dangerous felonies, such as murder and carjacking, are convicted to get criminals off the street,” Koenig said.

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said Koenig’s proposal was biased against the first black prosecutor elected in St. Louis. The measure only applies to the city.

“I think this is biased and I want you to know it,” May told Koenig. “If you’re going to put violent crimes and all of this under the attorney general’s office, you need to do it for the entire state.”

The legislation would allow the attorney general to begin prosecution of a case within 60 days of a law enforcement referral. It also would define the crime of “vehicle hijacking” in state statute, which would make carjackings easier to track, proponents said.

Gardner, in a statement, blasted the legislation for giving jurisdiction to the attorney general.

“Public safety in our community, and communities around the state, is a key priority,” she said. “However, these issues must be addressed at a local level. This bill seeks to usurp the discretion of local prosecutors.

“Poverty, hopelessness and a virtually unlimited availability of legal guns approved by the Legislature over the will of the people fuel crime in our communities, and it is critical that we address the root causes,” she said.

Tom Albus, assistant to Schmitt, a Republican, spoke in favor of the legislation, along with Jay Schroeder, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Former Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan said Missouri has a long history of decentralized law enforcement.

St. Charles Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Lohmar, a Republican and president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, testified against the measure.

The attorney general represents the state in civil cases, but only has limited powers to prosecute criminal cases. The attorney general handles criminal appeal cases and intervenes when a local prosecutor requests assistance.

“We think it’s vital for this legislative body to not be influenced so much by the present circumstances and perceptions, or the personalities involved,” Lohmar said, “but instead to honor longstanding and very well-held law that the local decisions to prosecute should be vested with those people who are elected by their constituency.”

Gardner faces former homicide prosecutor Mary Pat Carl in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary.

Koenig is running for reelection in November against state Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood. He represents the 15th Senate District, which Schmitt represented in the state Senate.

The legislation is Senate Bill 889.

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