Albuquerque prosecutor fired after evidence destroyed in rape case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – KRQE News 13 has learned the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has fired the prosecutor at the center of a woman’s botched rape case. This comes after a KRQE News 13 Special Assignment exposed how crucial evidence was destroyed in that case.

“It’s surreal,” Amanda Bryand told KRQE News 13. “I mean I still lay awake at night sometimes and wonder how all this happened.”

Amanda will never get justice the way she’d hoped for, but right now she feels some relief.

“I’m definitely relieved that there is some accountability,” said Amanda.

Earlier this month, KRQE News 13 reported about the major mistake in Amanda’s rape case.

In 2013 she reported a violent attack, claiming she was raped at gunpoint by a man she had just met named Eli Kronenanker.

After waiting years in limbo for the case to get moving, Amanda learned crucial evidence in her case had been destroyed.

“I’m still so angry about it,” Amanda said.

Someone under former District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s Office authorized the destruction of Amanda’s evidence. Photos, interviews and witness statements were all gone.

DNA lab results would eventually match Kronenanker to DNA on Amanda’s clothing. But without all the other evidence, prosecutors recently told Amanda they can’t pursue the case.

“For us to be in a position where we can’t move forward because of mistakes that happened in this office, is unacceptable,” Raúl Torrez, the current Bernalillo County District Attorney, told KRQE News 13 in an interview earlier this month.

Torrez launched an internal investigation and vowed he’d get to the bottom of what happened in Amanda’s case. Now, he claims he did.

After Amanda’s initial story aired, KRQE News 13 has learned Amanda’s own former prosecutor, Jacqueline James, was terminated by the DA’s office.

Amanda told KRQE News 13 she learned from Torrez’s office that Jacqueline James was the prosecutor who sent the letter to the crime lab authorizing the destruction of evidence.

Citing a personnel matter, the DA’s office wouldn’t confirm if it’s because of Amanda’s case that James, a 12-year prosecutor, doesn’t have a job there anymore.

However, KRQE News 13 tracked down Jacqueline James and asked her about the case.

James declined an interview, but told KRQE News 13 over the phone she wasn’t given a reason for her firing and doesn’t feel comfortable commenting on Amanda’s case.

James also claims she followed protocol at the time, and that her decisions were approved by a supervisor.

The former prosecutor said she’ had been with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office since October 2005, and worked as a sex crimes prosecutor since 2012.

According to the DA’s office, James was released from her position on May 19, 2017.

“I know this isn’t the end of it,” said Amanda.

She may be right. Two years ago, another woman came forward claiming Kronenanker raped her, something Amanda believes may have never happened if Kronenaker had been prosecuted in the first case.

The two cases had Albuquerque Police Department investigators stating, “Eli {Kronenanker} not only appears to be a threat to the community, but to the victim…appears to be displaying patterns as a serial rapist.”

Still, he’s never been convicted.

“I told them there’s videos on his phone because he took videos, and they didn’t subpoena his phone records – which blew my mind,” Amanda told KRQE News 13.

Amanda wondered if this has happened to any other victims. After her story aired, KRQE News 13 got a call from a woman who said evidence was also destroyed in her rape case. Before Amanda, she thought she was alone.

The woman doesn’t want to be identified, but said the DA’s office recently confirmed her rape kit was destroyed before prosecutors could move forward in her 2011 case.

“Victims should have to consent and sign off on any form of destruction of anything,” the woman said.

Amanda said even after all she’s been through, she still encourages rape victims in New Mexico to come forward. “I hope they get justice for themselves whether it’s criminally or within themselves,” she said.

It may be too late for Amanda, but Torrez tells KRQE News 13 his office is shifting resources, and reworking how prosecutors handle rape cases.

Amanda finds some solace in that.

“They’re using my case as a learning tool in the DA’s office on what not to do in a case,” she said. “That makes me feel a lot better. And that’s probably one of the things that keeps me sane.”

The District Attorney’s Office said it’s also working with law enforcement to try and speed up the process in cases like Amanda’s.

The DA’s office offered the following bullet points from its internal investigation into Amanda’s case:

  • The office needs to reexamine the procedures for authorizing the destruction of evidence. We are in the process of looking at our policies and procedures in regard to those issues.
  • Our review discovered we were not putting enough resources into the continued investigation of sexual assault cases and we are shifting resources internally.
  • We are working with our law enforcement partners to speed up the process in the amount of time it takes to reach a charging decision.
  • We are reevaluating the screening process for these cases to make sure all aspects of the evidence has been thoroughly reviewed before a decision as to whether or not to prosecute is made.
  • There may be other victims out there who are concerned about how their case was handled. We are in the process of reviewing cases to see if those cases warrant further investigation and possible prosecution and to evaluate whether the evidence still exists to proceed on those cases.

Former prosecutor Jacqueline James sent KRQE News 13 the following statement:

 

KRQE.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s