Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
I’m McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer.
My opponent’s criticism of my administration is intended to distract voters from the most important issue in this election – our trial records as prosecutors.
In 2014, nearly 6 out of every 10 defendants who went to trial were found not guilty of all charges or of the most serious charges. In 2015, that ratio rose to over 7 out of every 10.
When I ran for District Attorney in 2015, as the nominee of both the Republican and Democratic parties, I promised the voters that I would improve those unacceptable results. I have kept my word.
Today, over 7 out of every 10 defendants who go to trial are found guilty of all charges or of the most serious charges. This year, my office has a trial conviction rate of nearly 80%.
Since taking office in 2016, I have achieved a personal trial conviction rate of over 88%. Many of those convictions were achieved in lengthy, difficult, and well-known felony trials.
With the invaluable help of great police work:
I convicted Paul Morrisroe, at trial, for the homicide by vehicle of Dakota Heinaman.
I convicted James Fowler, at trial, for one of the largest cocaine operations in County history – and secured the forfeiture of his home to the people.
I secured, at trial, the first methamphetamine lab conviction after an epidemic of meth cases in 2018. I secured, at trial, the first drug delivery resulting in death conviction in the County’s history.
I convicted Holly Gausman, at trial, for arson, insurance fraud, and theft after she set her home on fire - - in Kane.
I convicted Shaine Miller, at trial, for aggravated assault, terroristic threats, and reckless endangerment after he pulled a gun on another man- - on Greeves Street.
Before he became a public defender, my opponent was an assistant district attorney in McKean County from 2010 to 2014. Although my opponent told the Era that he was “unsure” of his trial conviction rate as a prosecutor, public records establish that he has a career trial conviction rate of just 52.5%. As a prosecutor, he lost many serious felony trials. He lost more sex crimes trials than he won.
My opponent recently wrote: “In reality, any decent criminal attorney can obtain convictions at trial at a respectable rate.”
But, in reality, when my opponent was an assistant DA, if you wanted to predict the outcome of his trials – you could have flipped a coin.
Justice and the effective prosecution of crime must be more than a mere game of chance.
Failed prosecutions betray victims and waste good police work. Superior trial performance is the bedrock of justice. Superior trial performance ensures the safety of the law-abiding public.
The effective prosecution of crime is, most assuredly, not a political issue. The voters deserve proven performance – not a return to mediocrity.
My opponent will say almost anything to win this election. He falsely told the Era that many sex offenses are dismissed without trial -- for fear of losing them. “This is not the way victims should be treated.” he told the paper.
My opponent’s accusations are gravely irresponsible.
No cases are dismissed for arbitrary or improper reasons under my administration. The police and I apply one test for all cases. Can the Commonwealth prove the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt? When the answer is no, we withdraw the prosecution. When the evidence dictates, we add charges.
As District Attorney, I’ve learned that nearly every decision you make will be second guessed by someone like my opponent – unless, of course, that decision benefits them.
My opponent is also being hypocritical. In two 2012 cases, a defendant was charged with 2 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, 9 counts of aggravated indecent assault, and 15 counts of indecent assault against a 14-year old girl. My opponent prosecuted the defendant.
On the morning of trial, my opponent realized that he had made a fatal error in his preparation -- and the trial had to be continued. Six months later, just a few days before trial, my opponent filed to dismiss – all 26 sex crimes against the defendant.
That is not the way child victims should be treated. Clearly, it is far easier for my opponent to invoke principles -- than to live by them.
I have advocated for victimized children for my entire career – not merely for several weeks. While my opponent was in high school, I was a Caseworker and Foster Care Coordinator for Children & Youth Services. For nearly a decade before becoming DA, I served the Court as the County’s Guardian Ad Litem – responsible for the welfare of our County’s dependent children. I have represented more than 400 children involved in the child welfare system.
I personally handle most of the County’s sex crimes prosecutions. I have prioritized the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes against children. The changes I have made to the way these cases were previously handled have enabled me and the resources of my office to become involved at the investigation stage rather than waiting until the prosecution begins.
I am the most qualified and experienced candidate for District Attorney. While working at area businesses an interning at FCI-McKean, I attended college at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. While I worked as a Caseworker and Foster Care Coordinator, I drove to Buffalo to attend law school. For 8 years, I served as the McKean County’s Special Assistant Public Defender.
As District Attorney, I have addressed or attended more than 150 civic events such as child abuse, sexual violence, safety to first responders, scams targeting the elderly, gun rights, and school safety. I have also testified before the Center for Rural Pennsylvania on the opioid crisis.
I have lived in McKean County for 25 years - far longer than my opponent. McKean County is my home. I have practiced law for several more years than he has. As District Attorney, I have never lost a trial to my opponent.
It has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve the people of McKean County as their District Attorney. My time, my thoughts, and my energy - - belong to my fellow citizens.
My proven performance as District Attorney, and the work of my entire adult life, demonstrate that I have the experience, the ability, and the will that are necessary to serve and to protect you and your family. I would be honored to receive your vote in the May 21st primary.