A Philadelphia assistant district attorney was yanked from prosecuting two men accused of attempting to murder an alleged drug dealer after authorities discovered she had struck up a romance with the victim, the Daily News has learned.
"We identified that there was a conflict of interest in the case, and we immediately notified the [state] Attorney General's Office, and they took over the case," said Tasha Jamerson, director of communications for District Attorney Seth Williams.
Jamerson angrily refused to disclose the nature of the conflict. She said the D.A.'s office does not comment on such matters.
The prosecutor, Jennifer Mitrick, 30, did not respond to a Daily News message left on her office phone.
Now assigned to the D.A.'s East Division, Mitrick has handled a number of high-profile cases in recent years, including that of a group of teenagers who attacked a woman on the subway, and that of a man charged with pariticpating in the brutal beating and robbery of a bicyclist during a Center City flash mob.
Sources confirmed that Mitrick had been replaced by a prosecutor from the state Attorney General's Office after authorities stumbled onto the relationship she developed with Michael Wilson, the alleged Rastafarian drug dealer who survived a gunshot to the head during a Sept. 25, 2008, attack at his West Philadelphia home, on Jefferson Street near 61st.
Matthew Smith, 21, the accused shooter, was found not guilty of attempted murder and three related charges at the Criminal Justice Center yesterday.
Mitrick's involvement with Wilson began after the October 2009 trial of Smith's co-defendant, Aquil Johnson, 23, which Mitrick prosecuted.
Shortly after that case ended in a mistrial because of a hung jury, Mitrick and Wilson began what sources described as a romantic relationship.
The relationship came to light in February 2010, when law-enforcement officials - working an unrelated case - executed a search warrant of Wilson's home. They found drugs, an illegal gun and a picture of Mitrick and Wilson, sources said.
Defense attorney Joseph Lento, who will represent Johnson during his February 2012 retrial, said he saw the photo of the prosecutor and the alleged drug dealer.
"They were in a pose where it could be interpreted as romantic or a friendship, two people posing for the camera," Lento said.
State Deputy Attorney General Bill Davis, who served as prosecutor in Smith's trial, said: "It's not a good decision, I'll tell you that. She didn't exercise the best judgment."
During the trial, Smith's defense attorney, Dennis J. Cogan, referred to the picture of Mitrick and Wilson and asked Wilson about his relationship with her.
At one point when Wilson said they were friends, Cogan interrupted, "You were more than friends."
"Unexpected things happen in life. It does have a sense of impropriety - others have questioned it," Lento said of the relationship. "I'm not a judgmental person. It does make you wonder, though. It's odd."
Despite being replaced, Mitrick is in the clear with the D.A.'s office.
"Jennifer Mitrick is not facing any disciplinary action," Jamerson said.
Wilson is not so lucky. He faces a mandatory-minimum five-year sentence if convicted on drug and gun-possession charges he faces. His trial had been scheduled for this week but was continued until Sept. 13.