In the race for district attorney, Republican Tom Hogan, a private attorney in West Chester, had a significant lead over Democrat Samuel C. Stretton, also a private attorney, late Tuesday night.
Republican candidate Hogan led the race, securely ahead of Democrat candidate Stretton as of 11 p.m. Tuesday. In unofficial returns, with 86 percent of the vote of counted across the county, Hogan led with 36,357 vote or 60 percent. Stretton collected 23,922 vote or nearly 40 percent.
The results will not become official until certified by the county Board of Elections.
Hogan and Stretton were seeking to fill the vacancy created by outgoing Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll.
“This is not an end, this is just the beginning. We start work tomorrow on keeping Chester County a safe place,” Hogan said. “The entire team (volunteers, law enforcement supporters, fellow Republican candidates) appreciates the fact that voters listened to law enforcement endorsements and came out to support us.”
Stretton said about 11 p.m. Tuesday the unofficial numbers indicated Hogan would win the election.
“It appears he’s going to win the race,” Stretton said. “If in fact these numbers hold up, I wish him well.”
If elected, Hogan said in a recent interview he will expand the county’s drug unit in the areas of investigation and prosecution, require convicted criminals to pay forfeitures, create a “critical incident response team,” start a violent crime prevention program and require new prosecutors to undergo training before entering a courtroom.
While a drug unit currently exists within Chester County Detectives – which is a part of the district attorney’s office – Hogan said he will expand the unit as well as designate two prosecutors to handle drug crimes only. He said those two prosecutors would also be designated as federal prosecutors and subsequently be able to stay with Chester County drug cases that go to federal court. Hogan said drug cases would include cases such as drug related homicides and burglaries.
Secondly, Hogan said he would step-up the county’s forfeitures program and require more convicted criminals to give the DA’s office any “proceeds” the criminal had, such as cash or vehicles.
Hogan said the U.S. Department of Justice and many other counties in Pennsylvania have such programs. The forfeitures would expand the DA’s budget and enable the office to go after other criminals, Hogan said.
“It would mean additional money to put cops on the streets…I can’t think of anybody’s money better to use than the bad guys’ money,” Hogan said.
Next, Hogan said he would create a “critical incident response team” of prosecutors who would be trained to assist any major criminal event in the county, such as a school shooting. Specifically, Hogan said he would designate four or five assistant district attorneys to be trained on emergency wire taps, emergency search warrants and on how to contact the Department of Justice to collect intelligence related to the suspects involved. The prosecutors would also train with county Emergency Response Teams, commonly known as SWAT.
“You don’t want to be in the middle of an emergency and find out you need the DA’s office for something and you don’t know where to go,” Hogan said.
Hogan also intends to develop a “safe streets” program in which law enforcement focuses on common offenders who could potentially become violent offenders – before the violence occurs. Hogan said there have been times where he has been at a murder scene and the local police know the killer, saw the killer grow up in the community and witnessed the killer’s criminal activity worsen over time.
To prevent a young person on the criminal path from taking their crimes to the violent level, Hogan said police bring the “at risk” people into the police station and tell them “We know who you are, we know what your prior (arrests) are, and we tell them what will happen if they get caught with a gun or drugs again…We tell them it’s coming and then we enforce it.”
Hogan said such a tactic was successful in Coatesville and, if enforced, could once again be a violent crime deterrent in the county.
Finally, Hogan said he would ensure new assistant district attorneys are trained properly before getting sent into a courtroom. Hogan recalled his first days in the DA’s office: “They gave me the crimes code and told me to read it and before I knew it I was working in district court.”
In terms of the death penalty, Hogan said he will seek the punishment in the “most heinous cases,” but the cases will be held to a higher standard.
“If we’re going to apply the death penalty beyond a shadow of a doubt, because I don’t want to ever have a case second guess when we’ve applied the death penalty and took someone’s life,” Hogan said during a debate Oct. 23.
Hogan said if elected, the district attorney’s office would not seek the death penalty as a maneuver to convince a defendant to plead guilty for a life in prison sentence.
“When we look at the death penalty, we’re applying a higher standard, we’re only applying it to the cases that are also the most terrible, but we’re also not using it as a bargaining chip – no to get someone to plead to life in prison,” Hogan said.
In summary, to avoid conflict of interest Hogan said if elected, he would recuse himself from any criminal cases that his firm, Lamb McElrene, took on while Hogan worked at the firm. Hogan said he would assign another prosecutor in his office to handle the cases. Hogan is currently a partner at the firm. Hogan also said he would be able to prosecute cases out of the firm that come up once he leaves the firm.
Hogan joined the Lamb McElrene firm in 2006 after working for more than five years as a U.S. attorney in Philadelphia as an assistant U.S. attorney. In 1998 he worked as an assistant district attorney in the county district attorney’s office under both former Anthony Sarcione and outgoing District Attorney Joseph Carroll.
A variety of police organizations endorsed Hogan, locally and statewide as well as U.S. Congressman and former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan.
If elected, Stretton said he will have the agency’s more experienced prosecutors handle more cases and less administrative work; expand existing programs, such as mental health court and drug court; regionalize by working law enforcement in surrounding counties; and expand the re-entry program for convicted criminals.
To start, Stretton said he would have more experiences prosecutors, such as Rob Miller and Steve Kelly, handling more trials and less administrative work.
“I feel you should put your best trial lawyers on the serious cases,” Stretton said.
Next, Stretton said he would expand on existing programs, including Mental Health Court, Drug Court and the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, which allows first offenders to have their criminal records erased if they complete a probationary period and other court supervised requirement.
Stretton described the existing programs as “good,” but said many people are having difficulties getting into the programs. Stretton said if someone arrested for minor issues, like possession of a small amount of marijuana, could enter into one of these programs it would cut down on the trial load for prosecutors.
Broadening the programs would close the “revolving door” at the court “so we don’t just run them through the justice system again and again,” Stretton said.
Secondly, Stretton said he would like to see county law enforcement work with surrounding counties. For example, currently, Stretton said if a defendant has key information on a crime in another county Chester County police will not make a deal for a lighter sentence with that defendant. Stretton said Chester County police will demand information on a crime in Chester County in order to make a deal with the defendant. Stretton said if officials broadened their approach and worked with neighboring counties more crimes could be solved.
Next, Stretton said he would enhance the county’s re-entry program for convicted criminals entering back into society after serving prison time. Stretton said with the right amount of support for convicted criminals they will be less likely to reoffend. The enhanced program would help convicts find jobs as well as other support.
“This would lead to a significant reduction in crime,” Stretton said.
Stretton said retired Commonwealth Judge Dorris Smith-Ribner has agreed to assist with the program.
Being “tough on crime,” is no longer the answer, Stretton said. Instead it’s important to be “smart on crime” by expanding programs for first offenders.
When convicted criminals are released from jail and are unable to find work they may revert back to the criminal lifestyle to pay for food, housing and other needs.
“If I can break that cycle it will significantly reduce crime. I believe this kind of program will make a tremendous difference,” Stretton said.
Stretton has been an attorney for more than 35 years, most of which time was as a solo attorney primarily in Chester County and Philadelphia. His practice consists of criminal defense work, judicial and attorney disciplinary proceedings as well as election law issues. Stretton ran for state senator in 1982 as well as district attorney in 1987 and 1995.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams endorsed Stretton.
The election became heated when Stretton alleged in a prepared statement last month that Hogan violated the federal Hatch Act while working as a U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. The law bans federal employees from running for or campaigning for political office. Hogan has insisted the allegations are baseless and argued Stretton’s statement was a mere tactic to gain publicity.
Stretton said he has tried 67 death penalty cases and three clients were executed. While Stretton said he agrees with the philosophy of the death penalty, however, he said if elected he would not seek the death penalty until major changes are made in the county’s justice system.
“If I’m DA, no death penalty will be sought unless and until Chester County is willing to put the resources together so people facing death have competent counsel,” Stretton said.
Currently, Stretton is representing a defendant in a death penalty case and the defendant cannot afford attorney fees. He said he “had to fight” to obtain $10,000 for experts for the mitigation phase in the case. Typically, at least $40,000 is needed for experts, he said.
Follow staff writer Jennifer Carboni on Twitter @JenniferCarboni