How Likely is a Special Prosecutor in the Rice Case?

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announces the indictments of police officers in a news conference in 2014.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announces the indictments of police officers in a news conference in 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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A group of religious leaders yesterday announced their call for a special prosecutor to take over in the case of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer last year.  They cite a conflict of interest with local police and recent comments from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty seen as criticizing the Rice family as reasons for the call.  McGinty has said his comments were about the family's attorneys. But how likely is the appointment of a special prosecutor, and will it make a difference? 

Prosecutor McGinty has been presenting evidence to a grand jury in secret since October.  After the grand jury finishes deliberations, they will decide whether or not to indict the officers involved in the Rice case.  And despite being in the middle of grand jury hearings, a special prosecutor could still take McGinty’s place in the case.  “It’s not impossible to say, ‘let’s switch to a special prosecutor’ partway through the grand jury process.  That would be a little bit more unusual.”

That’s Cleveland State Marshall College of Law professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich.  He says appointing a special prosecutor could remove a local prosecutor’s potential conflict of interest.  “They’re not going to be somebody who is thinking about whether and how they need to maintain their relationships with the Cleveland Division of Police if they’re a prosecutor from Columbus, or Cincinnati, or Toledo," says Witmer-Rich.

McGinty has the ability to recommend a special prosecutor, but trial court ultimately chooses who will receive the job.  

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