KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker on Wednesday blasted a proposal for the state attorney general to take over backlogged homicide cases in St. Louis, saying it “smacked of politics.”
In a news release, Peters Baker said the measure, which Missouri Gov. Mike Parson proposed on Monday, was “dangerous” and could undermine the elected prosecutor's role in the community.
“The Attorney General wants us to believe he has some special powers where he has no trust with the community, no relationship with the police or judiciary and no relationship with the local prosecutor (since he never spoke with her),” Peters Baker said in the release. “No, this suggests something else is afoot and that something else is not seeking to benefit the citizens of St. Louis City.”
Some criticized the governor's proposal for "concurrent jurisdiction," saying it appeared to target St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who has clashed with Parson over her decision to charge a white couple after they pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.
Gardner, who won her Democratic primary last week and is favored to win the general election in November, accused the legislation of serving "as a vehicle to interfere with the clear discretion of a democratically elected local prosecutor," according to the Associated Press.
Peters Baker, who is the former chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, noted that 44 suspects were arrested so far this year in connection with the city’s 163 homicides. Gardner has filed charges against 34 of those suspects, she said.
“It is not uncommon for a prosecutor to ask for additional work to be done on a case in order to get to proof beyond a reasonable doubt and to be sure we are getting it right,” Peters Baker said. “That’s how it works.”
She said that no special law is needed for the state to help prosecute cases in St. Louis.
“The Attorney General simply could pick up the phone, call Ms. Gardner and ask, ‘how can I help you?’” Peters Baker said.
Under Parson’s proposal, which he wants the legislature to consider during a special session focused on violent crime, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office would be allowed to prosecute cases in which at least 90 days had passed since a filing.
Schmitt called it an “all hands on deck moment” as the homicide rates in Missouri’s largest cities continue to soar in 2020.
The governor did not extend the proposal to Kansas City, which is on track to see its deadliest year in history.