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Being prosecutor about making good decisions, Scott County candidates say
A successful prosecutor isn't all about getting a conviction or winning the "big cases," according to the two candidates vying for the public's vote as Scott County prosecuting attorney Tuesday.
Both candidates, incumbent Paul Boyd and former Scott County prosecutor Cristy Baker-Neel, agree a good prosecutor makes responsible decisions, regardless of whether they're understood by the public.
Baker-Neel, prosecuting attorney from 1993 to 2002 and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, said a good prosecutor is measured by how decisions are made to file charges.
"This is the point where people's lives, both defendant and victim, first become affected by the system," she said. "A prosecutor must make those decisions with integrity and the conviction to stick to her guns regardless of sometimes almost overwhelming pressure."
Boyd, who took office in 2003, believes that before anything else, prosecutors are ministers of justice. Decisions are made each day, he said, whether to proceed with a case against a suspect.
"These decisions are important and not always understood by the public. Being fair to all, but firm to those where the facts dictate they committed a crime should be the goal of a good prosecutor," Boyd said.
Many of the goals he set for himself during his 2002 campaign, including lowering the county's crime rate and making communities safer to live in, have been met, Boyd said.
The Sikeston Department of Public Safety reported recently that since 2001, it has had a 40 percent decrease in major felonies. Additionally, in the last five years, Boyd said, his office has helped bring in more than $3.2 million in bad check restitution and child support payments.
"We will always have some level of crime. However, Sikeston and Scott County are safer now than they have been in 20 years," Boyd said.
Communities become safer, he added, in a county where there's solid prosecution by an attorney willing to stand up to criminals and set a standard for consequences.
"You also work with law enforcement to make certain they have good cases," Boyd said.
Baker-Neel said she always knew she'd seek re-election to the office when her children were grown and that as prosecutor she'd work with law enforcement how she always had -- as an objective reviewer of the cases they present to her and not as a rubber stamp.
While many cases presented to a prosecutor are solid and viable, Baker-Neel said, occasionally there are times where charges shouldn't be filed, which is a lesson she learned in her first year as Scott County prosecutor.
"Don't bank on it developing into something better, because they rarely do, and when a case does fall apart, as they do occasionally, get rid of it," Baker-Neel said. "A prosecutor who files or hangs onto weak cases because of outside pressure only accomplishes the transfer of significant funds of the defendant into the pockets of his defense attorney, sometimes to the point of financial ruin."
Formerly an attorney with the Missouri Public Defender's Office and a law clerk with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Baker-Neel didn't run for re-election as prosecutor in 2002 because of two children at home and a Scott County Commission decision to make the office a full-time position.
"It was not because I no longer wanted to be prosecutor. I had been working about 60 hours per week, on call 24-7, every day of the year for 10 years and did not see how it was possible to do more," she said.
Boyd, who has prosecuted more than 70 felony jury trials and 13 murder trials as lead prosecutor, said he decided to run for re-election the day he ran for the position in 2002.
It's his experience, Boyd said, that makes him the stronger candidate for the position.
"I believe I have more actual, continuous experience in prosecuting cases," he said. "My opponent has not tried a felony jury trial since 1996 and has been dormant for personal reasons for at least seven years following 2002."
Baker-Neel said she's tried a case involving nearly every felony. She recalls being involved in six jury trials in eight weeks, and only two were one-day trials.
Baker-Neel said it's her accessibility to the public that makes her the best choice for prosecuting attorney.
"I could and can be contacted at any time by anyone with any questions or concerns you may have of me as your elected official either at my office or at home," she said.