A veteran prosecutor in Miami has resigned after a choose discovered that state investigators manipulated witnesses, together with probably offering conjugal visits to jailhouse informants in change for his or her testimony, in a high-profile loss of life penalty case towards a infamous gang chief.

Throughout his profession Michael Von Zamft has led among the largest homicide, conspiracy and racketeering instances within the Florida State Legal professional’s Workplace in Miami and at instances served as a coach and supervisor to youthful prosecutors.

He resigned this week following a surprising rebuke by the choose, who disqualified him and one other prosecutor, Stephen Mitchell, from the resentencing trial of gang chief and convicted assassin Corey Smith.

Decide Andrea Ricker Wolfson stated she discovered proof of “witness testimony manipulation” and “extreme recklessness” by prosecutors stretching again to the case’s origins 24 years in the past and persevering with to the current.

“The allegations on this declare are like a rabbit gap in Alice in Wonderland,” the choose wrote in her 15-page order. “The prosecutors on this case have overpassed their accountability, and justice calls for their disqualification.”

State Legal professional Katherine Fernandez Rundle stated Friday that she accepted the resignation of Von Zamft, her colleague of just about 30 years, and reaffirmed her dedication that every one prosecutors search “reality and justice” lawfully and with “honesty, integrity and professionalism.”

Her workplace didn’t reply to questions by The Related Press about whether or not she had initiated any self-discipline actions towards the prosecution workforce behind the case or filed a grievance to the Florida Bar.

“I’ll ask my high litigators to look at each side of this case and decide the most effective path ahead,” Rundle stated in an announcement, during which she additionally defended the choice to hunt the loss of life penalty for Smith. “We’re additionally the voice of the homicide victims who can not converse for themselves.”

Von Zamft declined to remark.

Among the many irregularities the choose discovered was testimony from inmates who stated they have been granted favors together with conjugal visits after they have been dropped at the Miami Police Division’s Murder Unit to coordinate their testimony towards Smith as state witnesses.

However probably the most damaging allegations towards Von Zamft got here from recordings of his conversations with an inmate during which, in anticipation of the resentencing trial, he mentioned arranging jailhouse conferences amongst a number of witnesses to allow them to coordinate their testimony — one thing Smith’s attorneys have been by no means advised, as is required in prison prosecutions.

In a 2022 telephone name, Von Zamft additionally mentioned sidelining one other witness whose model of occasions had shifted through the years, saying that if she didn’t testify as he needed, “I’ll discover a technique to make her unavailable” and browse her earlier testimony into the file.

“On tv, Perry Mason, protection legal professional extraordinaire, at all times managed to search out the smoking gun on the finish of each episode,” the choose wrote of that change. “In actual life, this occurs very hardly ever. It occurred right here.”

David Oscar Markus, a Miami protection legal professional who has efficiently litigated misconduct allegations towards federal prosecutors, stated the admonishment of the prosecutors is as courageous as it’s uncommon.

“Sadly this isn’t some remoted incident,” Markus stated. “If a protection lawyer had come near this conduct, he can be in handcuffs and charged with obstruction. However little is finished to prosecutors who cross the road.”

Smith was an alleged chief of what’s often known as the John Doe Gang, a drug group that bought marijuana and crack cocaine in a poor, predominantly Black neighborhood of Miami within the late Nineties.

His conviction in 2004 within the killing of 4 people was touted on the time as a serious victory towards gangs and was the fruits of years of federal and state investigations.

One other prosecutor who labored on that case, Bronwyn Miller, was appointed as a choose on the Miami-Dade County Court docket. She now sits on the Third District Court docket of Attraction in Florida.

Smith was sentenced to loss of life for 2 of the killings on the advice of a majority of jury members, however in 2017 state legislation modified to require a unanimous vote in capital punishment instances. In consequence the loss of life sentence was vacated.

Regardless of her admonishment of the prosecutors, Wolfson rejected Smith’s argument that there’s a broader tradition of misconduct that ought to bar Rundle’s workplace from urgent ahead on the case.

“We can not assist however stay involved that given the tenure of those attorneys, the problems raised weren’t distinctive to them or this case,” Craig Whisenhunt and Allison Miller, attorneys for Smith, stated in an announcement.


Republished with permission from The Related Press.


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