DeKalb DA soft on rape cases, says opponent 

Among the many local races being decided in the July 18 primary elections, one of the more unusual involves the challenge to DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan. The low-keyed Morgan has served as DeKalb's top lawman for eight years, and is generally regarded as a competent professional with particular expertise in dealing with prosecuting child-abuse cases.

But Decatur attorney Angie Kingma, a member of the board of the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center, says Morgan's office has failed miserably in one area: the prosecution of rape cases.

"I became aware that rape victims were going through the process and then hitting the DA's office, where their cases were being dismissed," says Kingma. "It turns out that a study by the public defender's office shows that, while he's been in office, 50 percent of all rape cases that were bound over to the DA's office, either by law enforcement or the magistrate courts, were dismissed by his office. Another 10 percent were being reduced to misdemeanors."

Declaring the situation "intolerable," Kingma -- a criminal trial lawyer for 12 years, who has never served as a prosecutor -- says she felt bound to enter the race. But, says Morgan, Kingma's figures don't tell the whole story.

"The only facts she's got are based on public defender cases; she has not looked at the broad range," says Morgan. "She's not accounting for victim dismissals, no-bills (cases found by a grand jury not to merit prosecution) or cases that are otherwise disposed of ... we pulled the 1999 cases, and 54 cases were bound over to us: Only seven were dismissed."

Kingma's argument, he says, does point up the need for Georgia to have a "lower-level" rape law, as do most other states.

"The problem is, Georgia is one of the few states that doesn't have anything between misdemeanor and rape," says Morgan. "So many of our cases will plead to a lesser charge -- because they're an acquaintance of the victim, there's no weapon used, or the victim doesn't want the 10-year minimum for a rape charge, but she wants some justice. We have no lesser degree of rape. So we have to come up with a fiction, like an aggravated assault charge."

Morgan notes that he's worked to help pass such legislation in the General Assembly, thus far to no effect.

"Its very frustrating, I agree," he says.

But Kingma is convinced that this DA is not sufficiently concerned. "The fact is," she says, "we need a change over there."

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