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Philadelphia’s Progressive Reform-Minded DA Has Made Tremendous Strides – But Are They Enough to Win Reelection?

Shortly after taking office, Krasner also established a Conviction Integrity Unit (“CIU”) to review prosecutions that occurred under previous administrations. Already the CIU’s investigations have led to 18 exonerations of innocent defendants falsely convicted, most of which were attributed to police and prosecutorial misconduct. These exonerations include men who were falsely convicted of murder and sent to death row. These exonerations reveal that the former manner of policing and prosecuting is unjust to both the accused and to the victims and their families who want the guilty parties – not innocent men and women – held accountable. Krasner has shown he will expose the misconduct of the police and of former prosecutors.

But Krasner is up for reelection and faces mounting opposition. Carlos Vega was one of the 31 staffers Krasner fired during his first week in office as part of his effort to reform the culture of the office. Vega is fiercely campaigning against Krasner. Vega has the support of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 (the union that represents Philadelphia’s police officers) and the union’s Political Action Committee among several other unions.

As an Assistant District Attorney, Vega assisted in the re-prosecution of Anthony Wright who was wrongfully convicted then acquitted by a jury at a new trial where DNA evidence exonerated him. When asked about the case, Vega refused to recognize that White had been exonerated, insisting that the jury had only “acquitted” White. When Vega was deposed in connection with a civil suit later brought by White, he said he would not have dismissed the indictment against Wright even if he had learned the police officers involved had fabricated a confession from Wright and had planted evidence.

Vega attempted to distance himself from the White case and downplay his role. “This was the case of another DA that had it for four years,” he said. “My only participation in that case was calling the civilian witnesses and I think the crime scene personnel.”

Vega has also received campaign contributions from two of the police officers involved in Wright’s prosecution, including the officer implicated in the fabrication of Wright’s confession. (Vega defended this officer’s actions at Wright’s retrial.) When asked about those contributions, Vega said he would return them. “I don’t want any hint of impropriety,” Vega said, noting that police officers are not permitted to contribute to political campaigns.

Philadelphia, like all cities across the U.S., has seen a dramatic rise in gun violence and homicides during the pandemic. Reactionary forces seeking to go backwards to the way of crooked cops and lying prosecutors hidden beneath the “tough on crime” rhetoric are blaming the rise in gun violence on Krasner’s policies. Yet the violence is a tragic, nationwide phenomenon, most likely attributable to people being socially isolated and economically devastated during the pandemic. Only time will reveal if Krasner and the truth will persuade Philadelphia’s voters. 

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