- Associated Press - Friday, April 14, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A county prosecutor who criticized specific residents of a northwest Missouri town for defending a convicted child sex offender is fighting an ethics complaint from a defense attorney who contends the prosecutor’s office threatened and intimidated witnesses.

The issue began in August 2015, when Darren Paden of Dearborn pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a girl for up to a decade. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, despite efforts by 16 Dearborn residents who wrote letters or testified at his sentencing hearing asking for leniency. Many of the letter writers were relatives or longtime friends who recounted positive things Paden had done for neighbors, his church and the town of 500 residents.

Those residents drew the ire of Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, who issued a news release after Paden’s sentencing identifying the residents and criticizing them for supporting Paden and shunning the abuse victim.

Defense attorney John P. O’Connor, who represented Paden, filed ethics complaints against Zahnd and Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Seufert last year. Retired Platte County Judge Abe Shafer, who represented one of the letter writers, also filed an ethics complaint against Seufert with the Missouri Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The contents of those complaints are sealed, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/2paLeLv ).

In a separate court motion, O’Connor asked a judge to remove Zahnd’s office from his cases, saying prosecutors treated him differently after he filed the complaint.



O’Connor said he could not comment because the ethics complaint remains under review. But in court documents, O’Connor accused Zahnd and Seufert of threatening to publish the witnesses’ names in local newspapers if they did not withdraw their letters of support.

Zahnd said he did nothing wrong.

“Transparency in our courts to the fullest extent allowed by the law is vital to our democracy,” Zahnd said in a statement he first released to KCUR radio in Kansas City. “The truth, as reported over and over by the media, is that Darren Paden is serving 50 years in prison as a confessed child abuser and clinically-diagnosed pedophile.”

The prosecutor said he is prohibited by law from discussing his interactions with Paden’s supporters.

“I am firmly convinced that my office handled every aspect of Mr. Paden’s case in a lawful and completely ethical manner that resulted in justice for the victim, the defendant, and the State of Missouri,” Zahnd said.

In March, O’Connor’s request to have Zahnd’s office removed from his cases was denied by the Platte County Court and the Missouri Court of Appeals.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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