Cooke, Winters face off again in district attorney’s race

awomack@macon.comOctober 14, 2012 

  • Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney

    David Cooke

    Age: 43
    Occupation: Houston County prosecutor
    Political party: Democrat
    Political experience: Made unsuccessful run for Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney in 2010.

    Greg Winters
    Age: 38
    Occupation: District attorney
    Political party: Republican
    Political experience: Elected district attorney in 2010.

Two years after facing each other in a runoff to become district attorney for the Macon Judicial Circuit, David Cooke and incumbent Greg Winters are squaring off again for the job.

Winters, a Republican, won the 2010 runoff by about 2,500 votes. The circuit includes Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties.

Cooke, a Democrat and Houston County prosecutor, said he’s making a second run for district attorney because he wants to help protect families and he’s more experienced than Winters.

“Obviously if I thought that they were being well protected now, I wouldn’t be running,” he said. “I know that I can do a better job.”

Winters said he wants a four-year term to continue the progress he’s made during his two-year stint and to continue moving forward.

“We still have more to do,” he said.

David Cooke

Since the 2010 election, Cooke has worked in the Houston County District Attorney’s Office’s Child Support Enforcement unit, prosecuting people who don’t pay child support.

If elected, Cooke said he would place a high priority on prosecuting sex crimes and murders.

He also said he would form a special unit, possibly starting with just one prosecutor, to target sex trafficking.

Cooke said he would work with the city attorney’s and solicitor’s offices to enforce local ordinances in an effort to close local massage parlors.

“One sting where people got massages, not even necessarily sexual ... we could take away their business licenses for giving massages without a license,” Cooke said. “And just like that, those parlors are gone.”

Cooke said he also would take part in a federal program that puts prosecutors in neighborhoods and assigns them to handle cases based on geography instead of the type of crime. Using the program, the federal government pays for the prosecutor, and the prosecutor is able to be involved with the community and know residents.

Cooke said “basic core competency” needs to be restored to the office of district attorney.

“Major balls are being dropped right here,” he said.

As an example, Cooke alleges mistakes were made in the capital murder case against Stephen McDaniel, the 27-year-old former Mercer University law school graduate accused in the 2011 slaying and dismemberment of his neighbor, Lauren Giddings.

Cooke said failing to indict McDaniel on the murder charge within 90 days of the charge, making him eligible for bond, was a “no-brainer” mistake. McDaniel was indicted within 84 days of his arrest on 30 counts of sexual exploitation of children and is not eligible for bond on those charges.

Cooke also alleges there’s an error in the murder warrant and that prosecutors shouldn’t have been trampling around the crime scene.

He said Winters shouldn’t have used unconfirmed evidence -- the “Mickey Finn” Internet post prosecutors initially attributed to McDaniel -- in a bond hearing. An Oklahoma man later came forward claiming to have authored that post.

“It’s not just the damage that this level of incompetence causes this case in particular, but it’s that it’s symptomatic of a larger issue and that is that there is a huge level of incompetence at the top,” Cooke said.

Citing rules of professional conduct for prosecutors, Winters said he couldn’t comment about the McDaniel case.

“I will not jeopardize a case for political gain,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am amazed that Mr. Cooke is speaking speculatively and publicly about a case that, if he were district attorney, he would have to prosecute.”

Greg Winters

Winters says 80 percent more cases were taken to trial during his first year in office than in the previous year.

Using top-10 lists of people Macon police and Bibb County deputies want prosecuted and removed from the streets, prosecutors have started prioritizing which cases go to court first and have helped to reduce the crime rate, he said.

Sixteen names have been removed from the lists through prosecution. Additional names have been added, Winters said.

Prosecutors also are taking care to prioritize cases involving a person accused of committing a string of crimes to get the person off the street, stopping the “revolving door,” he said.

For example, a man accused in multiple burglaries recently was sentenced to 15 years in prison in his first case and has more cases to go to trial. Instead of being out on bond and having an opportunity to commit a new crime, the man is behind bars, Winters said.

Under his leadership, prosecutors have facilitated the seizure of more than $250,000 in cash and property from area drug dealers, putting the money in law enforcement agencies’ and Bibb County’s coffers, he said.

Prosecutors have worked with area law enforcement to arrest three major drug dealers, Winters said.

By entering into a partnership with the Bibb County school district, prosecutors now get more information about students accused of crimes. Previously, school officials only could lawfully release information about a certain offense, Winters said.

“Now they can open up those files,” and prosecutors can get a fuller picture, he said.

Since taking office in January 2011, Winters has updated technology used in the prosecutors’ office. Decades old computers have been replaced, some at no cost to taxpayers, Winters said.

He pushed the use of a new case management software system that allows prosecutors to scan in documents and have remote access to cases, allowing them to work more efficiently, he said. Winters said he voluntarily cut his budget by more than $150,000. He gave up his county-provided car, and his county cell phone is used by a rotating on-call prosecutor. Police call the on-call prosecutor to get answers to legal questions while investigating crimes.

If re-elected, Winters said he wants to start an early intervention program in which clear-cut cases can be closed, through plea bargains or in some cases dismissed, quicker. That, he said, would save taxpayer dollars.

The program would be modeled after one used in Savannah where an average of 35 percent to 40 percent of cases are handled within 45 days of a crime, he said.

“I truly think this will help save money,” Winters said. “It will expedite the whole process.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this story.

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