By GARY POPP
CLARK COUNTY — Clark County residents can expect a new chief prosecutor to be elected next year.
Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart has recently said that he will not seek reelection in the 2014 election.
Stewart has served as the prosecutor in Clark County since 1989 and is the longest-serving prosecuting attorney in the county’s history.
Those vying to fill his seat include Clark County Democratic Party chairman and attorney Bob Bottorff and Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull, who is running as a Republican.
Mull, a Pekin area native, began his career as a prosecuting attorney in Clark County in 1999. His only time away from the Office of the Clark County Prosecutor in the past 14 years was during two tours working for the U.S. State Department as a legal advisor in Sudan and as a prosecution coordinator in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008.
In 2008, while in Afghanistan, Mull was contacted by Stewart and asked if he would accept the position of chief deputy prosecutor.
“I think Mr. Stewart just recognized that I have a devotion to being a prosecutor,” Mull said. “I work very hard at it. I am committed to it, and I have had a lot of success at prosecuting people that need sent away.”
For Mull, the next step is being elected prosecutor, a position, he says, he’s prepared to fill.
“I think the thing that most qualifies me for this position is experience,” he said. “I have obtained thousands of convictions over the years. And I have tried several high-level felony trials — murder, child molesting, high-level drug dealing, attempted murder, serious battery cases, bank robbery.”
Mull said his first goal as prosecutor would be confronting Clark County’s illegal drug activity.
“I have some specific strategies that I intend on implementing if I am elected. Number one, I am going to focus on taking down and sending to prison the high-level drug dealers in the community,” he said, “the ones that are selling the pills, the illegal drugs, and I intend on doing that by working with the different police departments to work our way up the chain of suppliers and really try to make a dent in the supply of drugs in our community.”
Mull said curtailing the drug supply in Clark County is a focal issue for him because he feels drug-related criminal activity is responsible for more than 90 percent of all crime in the county.
Mull’s experience includes working with the board of directors of a drug task force, which allowed him to have close interaction with area law enforcement officers.
“Narcotics officers would tell me that they would hear on the streets that a lot of people wouldn’t want to deal cocaine here in Clark County because I had such a reputation for sending those people to prison, and they would want to go over to Louisville to deal the drugs because they didn’t want to do it here,” he said.
Mull is confident that by targeting high-level offenders, he can have an impact on the county’s overall crime rate.
“You can make a real impact on the drugs in the community if you focus on the dealers and get those individuals off the streets,” he said. “And I know how to do that and that would be my No. 1 focus.”
Mull said he also has the experience and drive to go after violent offenders and see that they are properly sentenced.
“I will continue to target violent and dangerous criminals for strict and severe prison sentences,” he said. “I’m talking about those who murder, rape, or [commit] child molesting, burglaries. I have done that in the past. I’ve performed many trials in those cases and have sent many of those people to prison.”
As prosecutor, Mull said he would also work to convict lower-level offenders who commit theft and burglaries.
“I want to really put a focus on thieves, the people who steal,” he said. “There seems to be a culture with a lot of people in the community, and they think that because theft is a low-level offense they can just do that at will, and, if you look at the courts, there are people with 10, 15, 20 theft cases.”
Mull said leniency may be appropriate for first-time offenders, but said that leniency has its limits.
“The people who continue to steal and steal, those people I am going to identify and target to send to prison,” he said. “And, what you find is a lot of people graduate up to higher-level offenses because the lesson they learned is that, ‘I can commit these crimes and there are not very serious consequences,’ and that is a terrible message to send.”
Mull said if he’s elected prosecutor, he could have a significant influence on decreasing the inmate population at the Michael L. Becher Adult Correction Complex.
“I object to continuances of jury trials,” he said. “The judges will almost always grant one continuance, but if you have a defendant who is in jail, people want swift justice. They don’t want their case to sit one or two years, and there is no reason for that to happen in most cases.”
He said if a prosecutor takes a hard stance of objecting to continuances, defendants will be adjudicated more quickly, and if found guilty, the individual will be transferred sooner from the jail and into the Indiana Department of Corrections.
Mull said for a variety of reasons, inmates may prefer to be held in the jail instead of prison, but the longer those inmates remain in the jail, the more county tax dollars are spent.
“From a defense attorney’s standpoint, it most always makes sense to delay a case,” Mull said. “Time is not the prosecutor’s friend on a case. The longer you delay a case, the more likelihood our witnesses are going to disappear or become uncooperative or something is going to happen to evidence in a case. Some problem might come up.”
He said quicker trials make financial sense and reduce the amount of emotional stress on victims.
“I will institute a policy where my deputy prosecutors object to any continuance that isn’t necessary to ensure a due process right to a defendant,” Mull said.
Mull clarified that it is up to the judge to grant a continuance, but before doing so, he or she will often look to the prosecuting attorney for an objection or acceptance.
“If the prosecutor is very consistent about objecting to those continuances and making a record of that, then the judges are less likely to grant those continuances, so the prosecutor does have some control over that,” he said.
Mull said the jail population can also become more manageable and less expensive to tax payers through the use of the Clark County Drug Court Program, of which he is a founding member.
He said for some drug offenders, the first step is to get them behind bars where they will have the chance to become sober.
“I do believe, strongly, in nonviolent drug addicts being given that opportunity to go into these drug treatment programs,” Mull said. “It is just so heart wrenching on families to see their loved ones in these addictions, and I will do everything I can if these people are incarcerated, once I feel like they are not a danger anymore to anyone, to transition them to inpatient drug-treatment programs and allow them to, hopefully, get clean, and then they will not be out stealing to support their habits or committing other crimes.”
He said it is the job of the prosecutor to identify inmates who are good candidates for the drug treatment program, and to work with court officials to expedite their release from the jail and progress to becoming productive, tax paying citizens.
Mull said he would also like to see those who fail to make their child support payments held to a harsher standard.
“My tolerance for individuals who don’t pay child support and that are able to is zero,” he said. “The economy is bad, and children have a very difficult time getting what they need without these necessary child support payments.”
Mull said as prosecuting attorney, he has had experience with people who have taken a calculated effort to avoid paying child support by skipping from job to job and taking periods of unemployment.
“I think you can send a very clear message to those individuals in court,” Mull said. “‘You are either going to be on the job, or you are going to be in prison. And you make the choice of what you would rather do.’”
He said that those who don’t pay child support think that can work the system by going to court, telling a judge that he or she can’t find a job and be given another chance.
“If you are dedicated, you can find a job.” Mull said. “The kids deserve to have the money to be able to live in a reasonable way as they grow up.”
Whether an offender has been convicted of theft, battery, drug-related charges or murder, Mull said giving those people proper and tougher sentences will benefit all residents of Clark County.
“I have found as a prosecutor that it is a fundamental truth that if people become convinced that they are going to face certain consequences for not doing the right thing, most of the time they will do the right thing,” Mull said.
He said the prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer of the county and has a great amount of influence on crime in the community.
“I think a prosecutor who is experienced and who knows how to convict people and knows how to look at the crime problem and implement solutions can have a tremendous influence,” Mull said. “I am excited and eager to have the opportunity to be able to do that.”