Criminal Justice

After judge cites prosecutors' racist emails, DA declines to retry Asian American woman for murder

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Prosecutors said last week they won’t retry a woman convicted of setting a deadly fire after a judge vacated her conviction partly because of racist emails by prosecutors.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Frances Choy, an Asian American woman who was only 17 years old when she was accused of setting a fire to her Brockton, Massachusetts, home in 2003, killing her parents.

The New York Times and WBUR have coverage.

In a decision in mid-September, Judge Linda Giles vacated Choy’s 2011 convictions for arson and murder, partly citing evidence that her accuser had admitted that he was the actual perpetrator and that Choy’s trial lawyer had been ineffective. Giles also said newly discovered emails showed racial animus against Choy and her family.

The Plymouth County prosecutors “exchanged numerous images of Asian people, some accompanied by pejorative comments and some unexplained,” Giles wrote. “They exchanged ‘jokes’ about Asian stereotypes and mocking caricatures of Asians using imperfect English.”

Giles said had she been aware of the “racially and sexually degrading emails” at the time of the trial, she would have removed the prosecutors from the case and declared a mistrial.

Choy was imprisoned for 17 years. Her first two trials had ended with hung juries.

Two prosecutors wrote the emails. One now works in a different district attorney’s office. The other sued over being fired.

An appellate lawyer for Choy, John Barter, spoke with WBUR.

“This may be the first case in the U.S. where a murder conviction has been thrown out because of racism on the part of prosecutors,” Barter said.

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