In one of Shelby County’s most contentious races, University of Memphis law professor and criminal law attorney Steve Mulroy declared victory over Republican incumbent Amy Weirich in the race for Shelby County District Attorney General on Thursday.
With all 142 precincts reported, unofficial vote totals showed Mulroy with 56.12 percent of the vote (74,752 votes) to Weirich’s 43.79 percent (58,328 votes). At midnight, absentee votes had not yet been tabulated.
“Barring some statistically improbable election day results appear tonight, we have won the election for Shelby County District Attorney,” Mulroy said to a crowd of supporters late Thursday as the last few numbers were coming in.
Weirich also addressed her supporters right before midnight, and while she hadn’t yet conceded, she spoke in past tense about her tenure as district attorney.
“It has been the honor of my life to have been a prosecutor and to have served in the district attorney’s office and to have served the citizens of Shelby County,” she said before encouraging everyone to “go home and get some sleep.”
During the race, both Mulroy and Weirich centered their campaigns on fighting violent crime in Shelby County. However, the two clashed on just how they would tackle the growing issue.
Mulroy, a former prosecutor, has said that he launched his campaign to “overhaul the district attorney’s office” – with a focus on criminal justice reform.
Hammering his opponent on prosecutorial misconduct and transferring too many juveniles to adult court, Mulroy has committed to reducing the number of transfers for nonviolent crimes. He also wants to restore the federal Department of Justice monitoring of Juvenile Court to correct racially disproportionate charging.
Weirich, who has served as DA since 2011 when she was initially appointed by then-Governor, Bill Haslam, has touted her “tough on crime” record. It’s something that she credits for getting her re-elected in 2014.
However, critics of Weirich have criticized her approach, citing the excessive number of youth being tried as adults.
Currently, Shelby County leads the state of Tennessee in transferring youth to adult court, with a disproportionate number being Black.
“I’m running because there is a desperate need for reform in our criminal justice system, and the reform is designed to make the system fairer, to have less of a burden on innocent people and make it more fair racially, make it less discriminatory,” Mulroy said early on in his campaign.
Mulroy and Weirich also clashed on two controversial new Tennessee bills, “Truth in Sentencing” and the Abortion Trigger law.
“Truth in Sentencing” means those convicted of violent crimes like murder, carjackings and vehicular homicide must serve their entire sentence without the possibility of parole or early release. Those convicted of lesser crimes, like aggravated assault, will be required to serve at least 85 percent.
Mulroy disagrees with the new law, while his opponent has been a stark supporter of it.
Instead, Mulroy wants to focus on restorative justice by providing rehabilitation programs for offenders.
“Rehabilitation programs like youth villages, Memphis allies programs, which give people who are potentially at risk of being repeat offenders real alternatives through counseling and job training and things like that, so we can get their repeat offender rate down,” Mulroy said.
Other priorities for Mulroy include diversifying the district attorney’s office, fixing the “broken” bail system, and creating a Conviction Integrity Unit to review prior cases for possible error and/or wrongful convictions.
After declaring victory, Mulroy called Weirich a “dedicated public servant” with a vision different from his. He also had a message for her supporters.
“There is a way for us to work together for criminal justice reform, a way for us to have both justice and safety,” he said.
“I suspect it will not be as terrifying as they think right now. I hope to earn their trust and respect in the months ahead.”