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Under fire over new tactics, Krasner creating Victims Advisory Committee

DA launches committee to support crime victims as criminals get shorter sentences.
Philly DA Larry Krasner. (Courtesy of Philly DA's Office)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has taken flack in recent weeks from family members of murder victims who say his prosecutors have not communicated with them about decisions in defendants' cases. Some critics accused Krasner's office of focusing more on shortening defendants' sentences than the families of the people they killed.

On Friday, to honor Crime Victims’ Rights Week kicking off on April 9, Krasner announced the creation of a Crime Victims' Advisory Committee (CVAC), and invited the public to apply

"The goal of the criminal justice system is to create fewer victims. It is to prevent crime. And in so doing, we have to do better by survivors and by victims," Krasner said at a press conference Friday. The goal is to take a trauma-informed approach to how we work … We want to recognize our mistakes and do better and move past them."

Criticisms have arisen recently over the handling of cases such as the death of Ryan Kelly. Kelly, 21, was killed on Thanksgiving 2015 in front of his family's Port Richmond home while walking back from a Wawa. They questioned the DA's office's decision to offer a 22 to 44-year sentence to alleged shooter David Ramos Jr., barely more than the 20 to 40-year sentence his accomplice, getaway driver Keenan Glenn, got after pleading guilty and agreeing to testify. They also said they had not been informed of the change in tactics. A judge rejected the offer as too lenient.

"We have come to the conclusion the current DA's office's agenda is to shorten prison sentences and offer more rehabilitation to the criminals," Kelly's sister, Amy Campbell wrote in a letter posted online. "While this logic is only supposed to be applied to non-violent cases, the DA is applying it to current murder trials as well."

Campbell later retracted her criticisms after the DA's office made a new offer of 30 to 60 years in Ramos' case, which was accepted by a judge.

Other victims who have spoken out include the family of Sgt. Robert Wilson III, who was killed in the line of duty in 2015, who fear Krasner will not seek the death penalty against the brothers who shot Wilson to death in a Gamestop during a botched robbery. Family members of Gerard Grandzol, the Spring Garden dad killed outside his home in 2017, have also expressed concern that Grandzol's alleged killers may get lenient sentences, although the DA's office is pursuing keeping 16-year-old shooter Marvin Roberts' case in adult court. 

And the brother of David Bernstein, who was killed in 1982 by Joseph Schindler so he couldn't testify against Schindler, told the Inquirer he was not informed that Krasner's office went to court to make a deal moving Schindler off death row and giving him a life sentence instead.

The CVAC's creation was not directly linked to any case by Krasner's office. But the committee's goals will be to review the needs of crime victims and their families and explore new practices to better serve them.

"As the district attorney said, there has been some issues that have occurred," said Movita Johnson-Harrell, Krasner's Victim Services supervisor. "We need to be sure … that we are advocating for crime victims. That does not give them a veto as to the process of the law, but what it does do is includes them in the process of the law."

Krasner also said he supports the Marsy's Law bill, a proposal that would create legal protections for victims, including the right to be kept abreast of and invited to all legal proceedings involving their case.

No official appointments have been made to the CVAC, to which the DA's office invited victims of crimes to apply to. To learn more, call the DA's Victim Services office at 215-686-8027 or email movita.johnson-harrell@phila.gov.