Denver Democratic state Rep. Beth McCann handily has been elected Denver’s next District Attorney.
McCann, a former city safety manager, beat Helen Morgan, a veteran prosecutor in the office who left the Democratic Party to run as an independent.
Incomplete returns show McCann has snagged 74.5 percent of the vote to 25.5 for Morgan, who called McCann to concede. The wide margin is a clear indication that Denver is still a Democratic stronghold.
“I’m thrilled and happy that Denver voters believe in my vision for the DA’s office,” McCann told The Independent. “We have a lot of issues to work on.”
McCann beat out two Democratic challengers in the June primary. One was Michael Carrigan, a corporate lawyer who serves as a University of Colorado regent and used to work in the DA’s office. The other was Kenneth Boyd who, like Morgan, currently works as a prosecutor in the DA’s office. Boyd had the support of sitting DA Mitch Morrissey and of Boyd’s uncle, former Governor and Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter.
In an effort to help Carrigan’s campaign, attorney Frank Azar – aka “the Strong Man” – mailed fliers before the primary depicting McCann in an unflattering photo with an even more unflattering yellow tint. The mailer angered a large swath of Denver women voters, an historically key voting block in Denver’s Democratic primaries.
Morgan had the unofficial support of the police union, as well as backing from many prosecutors and defense attorneys who’ve lauded her effectiveness and integrity as a prosecutor. Morgan said the question of who’s elected district attorney shouldn’t be partisan. Democrats, in turn, quietly criticized her for defecting from the party.
Morgan debated McCann at a Colorado Independent forum in September. You can view that video here.
McCann is against the death penalty; supports stronger programs for mentally ill defendants and those with drug addiction; and pledges more transparency and community involvement than Morrissey, who’s term-limited out of office after three terms in January.
She has been especially critical of Morrissey’s handling of the case against Clarence Moses-EL – a 60-year-old man who was convicted in 1988 for the 1987 rape and assault of a woman in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. Denver Police threw all the physical evidence in a dumpster, despite the fact that Moses-EL won court order to test it for DNA. After another man came forward and confessed in that case, a judge vacated Moses-EL’s convictions and set him free in December. Despite that confession, Morrissey is re-prosecuting Moses-EL in a trial that started on Monday.
“I would not have re-tried that case, with all of the factors,” McCann said. “The thing that concerns me the most about it is the destruction of evidence. That, in my opinion, was inexcusable.”
Morrissey leaves office after a long record of declining to prosecute city police officers or sheriff’s deputies in cases involving complaints of excessive force. Civil rights activists, African-American and Latino leaders endorsed McCann in hopes that she’ll consider those cases with what they say is a much-needed independent eye.
“We look forward to Beth McCann ushering in a new era of law-enforcement accountability,” said Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum Denver Chapter. “Considering that the Denver DAs office hasn’t prosecuted a police officer for shooting civilians in decades, we look forward to Beth following through on her campaign promises to prosecute those officers who use excessive force against defenseless civilians.”
Roshan Bliss of the Denver Justice Project – a group that tried to recall Morrissey from office – welcomed the news of McCann’s victory.
“We hope that she makes good on promises on to become a true community prosecutor and make a real substantial effort to engage the community in decisions that affect us every day. We’re especially interested in seeing how she uses her position to reduce mass incarceration. And we welcome her efforts at really bringing restorative justice into Denver courts,” he said.
“We do say good riddance to Mr. Morrissey,” he added. “(We) can’t wait for him to step down.”
Photo courtesy of bhthmcannfordenverda.org.