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The Lake News Online
  • Meet the candidates for Miller County Prosecuting Attorney

  • When Miller County voters head to the polls on August 5, they will select a Prosecuting Attorney. Republican Ben Winfrey is challenging Republican incumbent Matt Howard for the position.
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  • When Miller County voters head to the polls on August 5, they will select a Prosecuting Attorney. Republican Ben Winfrey is challenging Republican incumbent Matt Howard for the position.
    Please provide background information including education, legal service and family.
    Howard: My name is Matt Howard, and I am seeking re-election as Miller County Prosecuting Attorney.  It has been my privilege and greatest honor to serve that office, and I look forward to continuing that commitment to public safety and working to keep Miller County a great place to live.
    I was raised at Jefferson City, and am a second generation Missouri lawyer and prosecutor. After graduating high school in 1979, I earned a degree in accounting from Central Missouri State University in 1982.  I worked as a licensed scuba instructor to help pay my way through college, which included training the first Missouri State Water Patrol Dive Team in 1982.
    I am 53 years old, and have proudly called Miller County home since graduating law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1985.  As a Miller County lawyer for 29 years, my experience includes 21 years in private practice, 7 years as an assistant prosecutor, 2 terms as elected prosecutor, and 16 years as counsel to the Miller County Nursing Home District.  I serve as chairman of the Miller County Child Fatality Review Panel and have frequently served as special prosecutor in neighboring counties.
    I have been married for 27 years to Suzanne Howard, who teaches elementary school.  We reside at Eldon and have proudly raised our sons, Ben and Andy, in this community.  As time permits I enjoy helping them on the farm raising black angus cattle.
    I am a member of the state and local bar associations, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National District Attorneys Association, the Eldon Chamber of Commerce (past director), the NRA, Eldon FFA Alumni, Missouri Farm Bureau, Captain in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, and attend Bethany Lutheran Church, where I have served as congregation president and Elder.
    Winfrey: My name is Ben Winfrey, and I am a Republican candidate for Prosecuting Attorney.  I am the fourth generation Winfrey to call Miller County home, and I live on my family’s farm near Brumley.  I graduated from Iberia High School in 1996 and earned my Bachelor’s Degree from Mizzou in 2001.  In 2005, I graduated from Washington University’s School of Law in Saint Louis. I have both extensive civil and criminal legal experience.  After two years in private practice specializing in civil litigation, I became an Assistant Prosecutor in Jackson County (Kansas City).  As a prosecutor, I fought violent crimes, including burglary, robbery, assault, and domestic violence.  I also specialized in cold cases where I pursued suspects who hid from justice. Because of my time as a prosecutor and attorney, I have the experience to perform every part of the prosecutor job.
    Page 2 of 5 - What do you see as the two major issues as a prosecuting attorney in Miller County?
    Howard: The two major issues for the prosecuting attorney in Miller County are a steadily growing caseload, and an increasing rate of serious crime committed by violent and repeat offenders.  In the 8 years I have served as prosecuting attorney, the felony and misdemeanor caseloads have increased more than 40%. This annual caseload is more than the caseload of both the neighboring counties of Morgan and Moniteau combined, and runs just over 70% of the case numbers in Camden County.  We have been able to maintain this docket without any significant increase in staffing, by streamlining procedures and increasing the use of technology to manage case information.  We presently have a significantly higher ratio of case numbers to staff than any neighboring county and are exploring ways to enhance the revenue collected through the prosecutor’s office, including implementing a county law enforcement restitution fund, to offset the cost of adding the staff that will eventually be necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the office.  
    Miller County currently has the highest per capita felony conviction rate of any central Missouri county, ranking as the 9th highest felony sentencing jurisdiction of all of Missouri’s 115 counties.  These statistics reflect an increasing number of more serious crimes which have been experienced in Miller County and the number of crimes being committed by repeat offenders.  According to our prosecution philosophy, those cases mandate seeking felony sentences to the Department of Corrections a majority of the time, rather than diverting those offenders into community corrections programs, or recommending misdemeanor dispositions, which is a trend becoming more commonplace in many jurisdictions -- especially urban areas accustomed to high crime rates.
    So in short, keeping up with the quantity and maintaining the quality of prosecution in Miller County are the two major challenges facing the prosecutor’s office.
    Winfrey: My two main goals as prosecutor will be to tackle the drug problem, which ravages our county, and return customer service to the prosecutor office.  Methamphetamine abuse causes crime which impacts us all… homes are burglarized, farm equipment is stolen, and children are abused. It is time to get tough on drug dealers.  
    Second, public servants should provide customer service to the community just like private businesses.  We must be pleasant and professional, and crime victims should always receive information regarding cases in a timely and courteous manner.  I promise to answer phone calls and be in my office every day.  I will be as accessible to the community as the law allows.
    Most criminal cases end in plea bargains. What factors should the prosecution consider when negotiating a plea bargain?
    Page 3 of 5 - Howard: More than 40 years ago, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court appropriately observed what judges and prosecutors have known for centuries -- that negotiating  dispositions of criminal cases, otherwise known as “plea bargaining”, is an essential component of the criminal justice system and a highly desirable part of the process when properly administered.  To properly represent the community when making sentencing recommendations, a prosecutor needs to have extensive experience with and be knowledgeable of the nuances of local judges and juries in a variety of types of cases. Negotiated plea agreements have a number of benefits including leading to prompt and largely final dispositions of most criminal cases, eliminating the need for innocent witnesses and crime victims to interrupt their lives to participate in trial proceedings and testify in open court, eliminating the uncertainty of results from a trial, and saving the public from the expense of having courts conduct large numbers of jury trials. Plea agreements are not necessarily “bargains” for defendants.  As a prosecutor, we seek the truth and justice.  Justice does not demand a trial, nor does it always demand the maximum punishment. A just result can be achieved by a plea agreement in many cases, especially when a defendant is willing to take responsibility and be accountable for his or her actions.  Factors that should be considered include: seriousness of the offense; the motive to commit the crime; the offender’s criminal history; prior record of compliance on probation or parole; effect of a trial on the victim; whether the offender is willing to accept responsibility for his or her actions; whether the offender should be granted the opportunity to make financial restitution; and how they are likely to respond to probation or rehabilitation programs.
    Winfrey: A plea offer should never be made simply to avoid hard work.  However, the job of a prosecutor is to seek justice. Sometimes a plea offer is appropriate.  With that in mind, as a prosecutor I always weighed several factors in deciding if a plea offer was right and my demands were appropriate in return for a plea offer.  First, how serious was the crime?  How bad was the victim or community injured?  Second, did the Defendant have redeeming value or did he have a criminal record that made him a threat to society?  Also, what was the wish of the victim?  Finally, I will always seek to do what is right as determined by my conscience and experience.
     
    What sets you apart from the other candidate; why should voters cast their ballot for you?
    Howard: I have considerably more experience than my opponent in the practice of law, in criminal prosecution and life in general.  As much as a candidate’s experience is important, perhaps more important is the community’s experience with a particular candidate.  Although not born in Miller County, I have lived most of my adult life in this community, representing individuals and working as a prosecutor.  I have raised a family here, volunteered in all manner of community projects and organizations, invested my time and resources here, owned property, and been a taxpayer in Miller County for nearly three decades. Accordingly, a lot of people know me well, and many more know me by reputation to be a person of maturity and stability, with the integrity and temperament to be trusted to represent their interests as prosecuting attorney. I also have a record of administering the prosecutor’s office in a fair and firm manner, with proven results, of which I think Miller County citizens should be proud.  According to Missouri Department of Corrections statistics, Miller County, ranking 9th in the state, well surpasses any of the surrounding counties of Camden, Morgan, Moniteau, Cole, Osage, Maries or Pulaski, as well as 99 other Missouri counties in its felony sentencing rate.  We have achieved a 100% conviction rate in all 11 felony homicide cases coming to trial in the last 8 years, and our office has collected and paid out over $1.8 million to crime victims in Miller County during that time period.  These are not just my accomplishments, but are the product of teamwork with a variety of other county officials, state and local law enforcement officers, social service and allied agencies, business leaders, and just regular citizens in Miller County who have been willing to step up and do the right thing.
    Page 4 of 5 - Winfrey: I will bring change to Miller County, which is greatly needed. I will bring a strong work ethic and dedication to the prosecutor office. I believe my tough track record as a prosecutor speaks for itself about my dedication to upholding the law for all people.  My opponent is a nice man and a family man.  However, a change is required because the county is going in a negative direction.  Drug use is rampant and it is causing property and violent crime in every corner of the county.    A strong work ethic and backbone are necessary to bring change when times are toughest.
    Please provide any additional information you’d like.
    Howard: I believe that the record of performance at the prosecutor’s office during my service has been a good one, and I would like to see that continue and to improve.  There are a number of interesting cases waiting to be tried and challenging issues to be addressed in the next few years.  Our court and the prosecutor’s office are presently preparing to convert to an electronic filing system with digital court files within the next several months, during which we also plan to have the prosecutor’s office moving to a largely paperless office system, boosting our productivity and efficiency even more.  Starting this next year we are also looking forward to conducting programs within area schools on decision making skills for teens and mock court presentations for high school students.  
    One of the most powerful moments I have witnessed during my career happened many years ago during a case I was prosecuting where the victim was a little girl.  The judge asked her if she would promise to tell the truth, and she said yes.  The judge went on to ask if she could explain what it meant to her to make a promise.  The little girl looked back at the judge and answered loudly and clearly, “It means that you won’t back down”.   The next few years will be an interesting and exciting time to be a prosecutor in Miller County, and I would like to have the opportunity to keep my experience working for the citizens of Miller County.  I believe my record and depth of experience makes me the trusted choice for this important job, and I won’t back down when it comes to representing the people in our community.
    Winfrey: I am running for Prosecuting Attorney because I owe a debt to the people of Miller County.  When I was 14 years old, I was paralyzed from the neck down when I was shot in a gun accident.  In response, the entire County, both north and south of the river, rallied to help me overcome a terrible injury. With your encouragement and assistance, I graduated high school and college and even earned a law degree.  I am the man I am today because of the people of Miller County.  As such, I want to use my experience as a prosecutor and strong work ethic to make this a better county for all of us. With that in mind, I ask you for the privilege of being your Prosecuting Attorney. Please vote for change on August 5.  Please vote Winfrey.
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