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Six things to know about the candidates running to replace Circuit Attorney Joyce

Circuit attorney candidates in alphabetical order from left, Mary Pat Carl, Kimberly Gardner, Patrick Hamacher, Steve Harmon

Come January, there will be a new prosecutor in the city of St. Louis for the first time in 16 years.

The election to replace Jennifer Joyce as circuit attorney comes as the city is struggling to get homicides and other violent crime under control. Relations between law enforcement and some communities remain strained as well, with Joyce herself having been the target of protests.

Still, four candidates — two black, two white, two men and two women — are eager to tackle the challenge.  All are highlighting the experience they would bring to the job.

Meet the Candidates

  • Mary Pat Carl

Who she is:

Carl is on leave from her position as the lead homicide prosecutor in St. Louis. She has worked with the circuit attorney's office since 2003, and worked in St. Clair County before that.

Why she believes she's the best candidate:

Mary Pat Carl
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Carl touts her prosecutorial experience. "If you add the experience of every single one of [the three other candidates] together, I have more than they have combined," she said. "I've handled basically every type of case in the office."

Carl supports alternative sentencing, such as drug or mental health courts, or diversion programs the office has set up for low-level felonies and some gun crimes. "It takes a seasoned and experienced person to know when that person deserves the chance, when you can take a risk on someone," said.

How she will crack down on guns:

"We are up against a gun culture," Carl said. "There's been a romanticizing of guns with our young people." But she acknowledges that it's going to be tough to deal with the issue legislatively, as Republicans are likely to retain large majorities in the Missouri General Assembly, and all of the major candidates for governor support gun rights. "Let's work on what we can, and that's illegal guns," she said. "That's a common ground we can all agree on, is that there shouldn't be illegal guns, and that they shouldn't be in the hands of kids."

Where she stands on special prosecutors:

Carl said she is not opposed to special prosecutors handling cases where an officer is accused of committing a crime on duty, but she would have to weigh them on a case-by-base basis. "I have a question that hasn't been answered and that's how do we hold special prosecutors accountable?" she said. "How do make sure that they're answering to the public?"

Where she stands on the death penalty:

As long as Missouri has the death penalty, Carl said she would consider it in first-degree murder cases, but would take a guilty plea with a life sentence over pursuing a death penalty case. And, she said, the office needs to scrutinize how it is applying the death penalty. 

What she'll do about diversity in the circuit attorney's office:

The office is decent at recruiting people of color to be prosecutors, Carl said, "but we are really bad at hanging on to and promoting minorities in our office. So we need to have some tough conversations with people in our office and ask what is it about this office environment that people aren't staying. And I don't pretend to have that answer."

Listen to Mary Pat Carl on Politically Speaking

  • Kimberly Gardner

Who she is:

Gardner serves as the state representative for the 77th district. She is also the attorney for her family's funeral home in north St. Louis and a registered nurse. She was previously an assistant circuit attorney under Jennifer Joyce. 

Kim Gardner
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Why she believes she's the best candidate:

"We're all adequate to try cases," said Gardner, who did not try a homicide while working for Joyce's office. "I have the experience as a registered nurse to understand the mental and social issues of how some people go into the criminal justice system. But I’m a lifelong city resident in one of the hardest areas, to understand what crime – it’s not just about you losing that one individual, it affects the whole community.”

She considers herself the best candidate to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. "We can talk about all the diversion programs you want, but at the same time we have to hold the serious individuals accountable," she said. "And we need witnesses and victims to come forward, and feel comfortable coming forward."

How she will crack down on guns:

"I understand that it's going to be an uphill battle," Gardner said, referring to getting help from the Missouri General Assembly. "But at the end of the day, we can all agree that we need to have sensible gun control. I believe that we have a right under the Second Amendment to lawful gun ownership, but we're not talking about those people."

Where she stands on special prosecutors:

Gardner said she's supported using special prosecutors for cases involving police officers both as a legislator and a circuit attorney candidate. "But we also have to make sure that we have independent investigations. The perception of bias is the problem that we're having no matter the outcome in these cases." She said she wants to work with the courts, prosecutors and police to come up with a structure.

Where she stands on the death penalty:

Gardner is personally opposed to capital punishment, but acknowledges it is the law of the land. She said she would carefully scrutinize death-penalty-eligible cases, and work with the legislature to ensure that there are additional checks on the system.

What she'll do about diversity in the circuit attorney's office:

Gardner said she was one of three African Americans in the circuit attorney's office during her time there. "That's unacceptable," she said. "We need to have a diverse community representative of all of St. Louis so we can have the experience and the knowledge to address the unique situations that cause problems."

Gardner said she'll focus on attracting and retaining individuals from all over St. Louis, including the Hispanic, Bosnian and LGBT communities.

Listen to Kimberly Gardner on Politically Speaking

Patrick Hamacher

Who he is:

Hamacher has been with the circuit attorney's office since he graduated from law school in 2011. He's on leave from his assistant circuit attorney position, where he handles murder, robbery and assault cases. He's also worked with specialized units like bomb and arson and a casino task force.

Why he believes he's the best candidate:

Patrick Hamacher
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Hamacher consistently highlights his support for alternative sentencing and diversion programs. He frequently references a program that he set up for a 17-year-0ld caught with a concealed firearm. Charging the young man with a crime could have gotten him suspended from school.

"So he was on probation to me," Hamacher said. "I check in with him every two weeks, make sure that he stays away from guns and gangs, gets good grades and graduates. He successfully went through that program; he graduates from high school, and now he’s back this summer working two summer jobs."

Hamacher said expanding existing diversion programs will give him additional resources to target violent crime.

He is also extremely proud that as the "bald white guy," he picked up the endorsement of the Ethical Society of Police, which represents the interests of black police officers.

“I think it sends really a great signal to the community that I’m someone who can bridge some of these gaps that we have here in St. Louis and bring people together, especially with everything we have going on in the criminal justice system right now," he said.

How he will crack down on guns:

Hamacher said he understands why St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson is frustrated with judges who set low bonds for gun crimes. "But at the same time, I don't think there are many criminals going around committing crimes because they think the judges are soft," he said. All of the stakeholders agree that violent crime is a problem, and he wants to get them to the table, he said

Where he stands on special prosecutorsL

Hamacher said his experience working on an officer-involved shooting convinced him that those cases are best handled by a special prosecutor.

"I really like former U.S. attorneys," he said. "They generally end up at big law firms, so they can help cover some of those resources. They're some of our best prosecutors, and I know that's who Jennifer [Joyce] has gone to in cases where she's felt there's a conflict."

Where he stands on the death penalty:

Hamacher said he doesn't believe the death penalty deters crime.

"At the same time, we are experiencing a level of violent crime here in the last two years that we haven't seen in 20 years," he said. "So I'm not going to say when I'm going to use it, but I'm not comfortable taking it off the table as of yet."

What he'll do about diversity in the circuit attorney's office:

Hamacher said the office needs to start recruiting people from the local law schools early. If that doesn't work, he said, take the show on the road. In Chicago, you can hit five law schools in two days, he said.

"St. Louis is a very affordable urban city," he said. "But the experience level we get in our office is bar none. If I were trying cases up in Chicago, or in Manhattan, or in Brooklyn, or even in Nashville, it would have taken me three years to try lower-level jury trials. For better or for worse, I got to try my first jury trial the third week on the job, and then I got to homicides in three years."

He would also establish a mentorship program for young attorneys, many of whom are in their first job out of college.

Listen to Patrick Hamacher on Politically Speaking

  • Steve Harmon

Who he is:

Harmon is the in-house attorney for the St. Louis Public Schools. Prior to that, he worked as a municipal prosecutor for former St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. Before becoming an attorney, he spent 20 years with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He is the son of former St. Louis Police Chief and Mayor Clarence Harmon.

Why he believes he is the best candidate:

Harmon is running as the proud outsider in the race. 

Steve Harmon
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

"The other candidates were either hired, trained or recruited by Jennifer Joyce. So the ones that are currently in that office I think bear some of the responsibilities that have led to the distrust in the community," he said.

He also points to his managerial experience.

"I'm the only one who has actually supervised people," he said. "I’ve worked with budgets. I’ve done hiring and firing, dealt with promotions, employee misconduct, employee discipline."

How he will crack down on guns:

Harmon said he will lobby as hard as he can in Jefferson City for additional restrictions on guns.

Where he stands on special prosecutors:

Like Carl, Harmon said he would review each case involving police officers on a case-by-case basis. 

"If you have a special prosecutor, and they look into the case and they come up with a finding of no criminal incident, and then the public's not happy with that, then what? There's always going to be some question and doubt," he said.

Where he stands on the death penalty:

Harmon said he'd reserve capital punishment for "the most egregious cases where the facts aren't in doubt." 

What he'll do about diversity in the circuit attorney's office:

Like Hamacher, Harmon said he'd boost the office's recruiting efforts, with a larger focus on historically black colleges and universities and those in private practice.

Listen to Steve Harmon on Politically Speaking

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.