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Incumbent prosecutor faces challenge

October 22, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely and her election challenger, Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor Larry Crofford, both boast of high conviction rates.

Games-Neely said 98 percent of the people she has prosecuted have been convicted; Crofford said his conviction rate is more than 95 percent.

Games-Neely, a Republican, and Crofford, a Democrat, will square off in the Nov. 2 general election.

Prosecutors are elected to four-year terms and make $83,600 a year.

Crofford, 56, pointed out that he and his family live in Martinsburg in Berkeley County.

"I have a personal, as well as professional, investment in fighting crime in the county," Crofford said. "I think it's important for a prosecutor to live in the county where he or she serves."

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Games-Neely, 46, lives outside of Shepherdstown, W.Va., just across the county line in Jefferson County. She said she would love to one day move back to Berkeley County, where she previously lived.

Games-Neely said she is far more familiar with Berkeley County than Jefferson County, where she said she knows only the locations of two schools and the courthouse.

"All I do is sleep over there," Games-Neely said, as she sat in her office. She noted that Crofford does not live in the county in which he now works - Jefferson County.

Both Crofford and Games-Neely grew up in the state's northern Panhandle and obtained their law degrees from West Virginia University.

Games-Neely worked as a criminal defense attorney before joining the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's office in 1989. She was appointed the county's top prosecutor in 1993 and has since won each election in which she has run.

Before becoming an assistant prosecutor, Crofford had a general practice, which included taking on criminal defense work. From 1987-88, he worked as a public defender in Berkeley County.

During their tenures, both have handled major crimes, including murder, kidnapping and robbery cases, they said.

Games-Neely said that if she is re-elected she will continue to work as hard as she does now, and she pledged never to turn a case away because doing so seems to be the easy route to take.

She said she wants to increase the number of assistant prosecutors from seven to 13 and allow each to gain a level of expertise in a particular area.

Games-Neely said nobody will fight harder for her employees and nobody will fight harder in a courtroom than she does.

If elected, Crofford said he hopes to obtain grants to allow for more specialized training for the assistant prosecutors. Holding training seminars for police officers on a regular basis also is important, since the law changes, he said.

He said he also hopes to improve the relationship between the prosecutor and county commissioners, while still fighting for pay increases for the assistant prosecutors.

Crofford supports using a system known as "vertical prosecution," in which the first prosecutor who takes on a case keeps it through all stages of prosecution, including the trial and sentencing.

"I've used (vertical prosecution) for more than 14 years and I know it works," Crofford said. "Vertical prosecution results in an efficient, organized way of taking cases to resolution."

Although Games-Neely handles some cases from start to finish, usually one assistant prosecutor handles a case in Magistrate Court, while another takes over if it reaches Circuit Court.

Vertical prosecution is an excellent idea in theory, Games-Neely said, but is not possible given the court system. The county has five magistrates and three Circuit Court judges, who often have overlapping schedules, she said.

Games-Neely is married with two children, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.

Crofford and his wife have three adult children, a 15-year-old daughter at home and two grandchildren.

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