Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty is facing criticism after she dropped a rape charge involving a 14-year-old victim during her first week in office.
Moriarty was sworn in Jan. 3, replacing longtime county attorney Mike Freeman. She ran on a progressive platform of “restorative justice programs” and “alternatives to incarceration.”
Her campaign was opposed by 32 senior Hennepin County prosecutors, including Catherine McEnroe, who is now under investigation by the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, according to the Star Tribune.
McEnroe was leading the prosecution of 35-year-old Marco Tulio Rivera Enamorado, who was charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He allegedly raped his 14-year-old cousin when he was invited from Honduras to come live with her family in the summer of 2019.
McEnroe is accused of fabricating the contents of a note that was passed to her by a victim advocate during Enamorado’s trial Jan. 6.
“During a recess, while the 17-year-old alleged victim testified with their parent in the courtroom, a victim advocate from our office passed a note to the prosecutor. The note was a reminder to the prosecutor to establish the venue of the offense. This simply means that it happened in Hennepin County,” Moriarty’s office said in a statement.
“After seeing the note passed and being concerned it could be a violation of the sequestration order, Judge [Peter] Cahill called the prosecutor to the bench and questioned the prosecutor about the content of the note. While the note was not a violation of the sequestration order and was not inappropriate in any way, the prosecutor lied to Judge Cahill about its content,” the statement explained.
McEnroe told the judge that the note was a reminder of how to pronounce someone’s name and then asked the victim advocate to change the note to “conform with the lie that she had told the court,” Moriarty said during a press conference Monday.
“Four days into the trial of a serious case with complex evidence and facts, it is impossible to substitute a new attorney who is unfamiliar with the case. After assessing our potential options late Friday, we determined that the office would be unable to proceed with prosecution, that we were no longer able to secure a conviction, and that we would be forced to dismiss the charges,” she said.
The case cannot be retried because it was dismissed with prejudice and the prosecution could not motion for a mistrial themselves because their own actions created the conditions for a mistrial, Moriarty explained.
“We offered to join in a motion for a mistrial with the defense. The defense, which is their right, opted to go ahead with the trial,” she said.
A source with knowledge of the situation said there was no reason for the case to be dismissed, especially since two other prosecutors offered to take over the case.
“The conduct of the county attorney trying the case had nothing to do with the substance of the actual trial,” the source said. “That attorney absolutely could have continued on with the case. If there was concern about her candor to the court, then a supervisor could have acted as co-counsel to ensure the court that there would be truthfulness.”
Moriarty said her priority from the beginning was “trying to see if we could continue to prosecute this case, whether now or later after a mistrial might be declared.”
“That victim, young woman, was incredibly courageous in testifying in this case and I’m deeply disappointed that we can’t go forward in this prosecution,” she said.
A juror in the case, Joe Ritter, spoke out in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Star Tribune and called for a more thorough explanation from Moriarty.
“The prosecutor had behaved inappropriately and it was necessary to remove her from the case. But I learned from Tuesday’s article that it was actually a discretionary choice by the county attorney to dismiss the case rather than to proceed. The stated rationale for this decision does not match the reality of the situation, and the public deserves a better explanation from the county attorney,” Ritter wrote.
He said the case was not complex, as Moriarty claimed; it relied only on witness testimony from a handful of witnesses, he said.
“The county attorney’s statements don’t seem to add up, and that is why I believe she owes the public a more complete and credible explanation for the decision,” Ritter said.
Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, called the dismissal of the case “curious and disturbing.”
“Curious because she should have found a better way to discipline the prosecutor who was not honest with a trial judge about the content of a note that had no bearing on the criminal charge. There is no excuse for that decision, but dismissal of a serious case doesn’t strike me as the proper management response from the standpoint of our community,” he said in a Star Tribune letter.
“An alleged rapist is now free without the process of determining accountability for his conduct having been completed. This is disturbing because I fear it reflects the perspective of finding a way to get an accused offender off, which was Moriarty’s old job through the important function of public defense,” he added.
Enamorado was released from custody on Monday. Moriarty’s office did not respond to a request for comment.