For two weeks, the pressure on the prosecutor’s office here steadily grew.
Would a White homeowner in a mostly White suburb be charged with a crime in the shotgun slaying of a 19-year-old Black woman from Detroit who came to his door in the middle of the night? While civil rights activists compared the shooting to other racially tinged cases around the nation, most notably the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Wayne County’s top prosecutor was largely silent, saying only that she would announce a decision when her investigation was done.
On Friday, speaking matter-of-factly in her packed offices in Detroit, the prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, announced that she would seek a charge of second-degree murder. Despite the intense focus on the case and the simmering racial concerns, Ms. Worthy said her approach to cases always remained the same. “No matter what kind of pressure you receive to not charge a case or to charge it, you don’t go by that,” Ms. Worthy said on Monday in an interview here in her offices. “If the facts and evidence are leading you, then you can’t go wrong. If you are afraid to make those decisions, then you need not have this job. If you are afraid you will lose friends or lose influence or lose whatever — lose traction — then you don’t need to have this job, because you’ll make decisions based on the wrong things.”
Ms. Worthy, who nearly a decade ago became the first African-American and the first woman to hold the top prosecuting job in Wayne County, is widely viewed here as meticulous, blunt and unshakable, sometimes to a fault, her critics say, in her opinions. Over the years, she has taken on county leaders, who she says have failed to fund her office sufficiently; uninvolved parents who refuse to take part in any conferences with teachers over their troubled children, and who Ms. Worthy once suggested should face up to three days in jail; and Kwame Kilpatrick, whom she charged with perjury, misconduct in office and other crimes while he was the mayor of Detroit, to the dismay of his allies. “If she puts the hammer down on you, there’s that old saying, ‘You can run, but you can’t hide,’ ” said Arnold Reed, a lawyer who at one point represented Mr. Kilpatrick, who was also later convicted of federal crimes. “She’s relentless.”
Ms. Worthy, who is 55 and a single mother to three adopted daughters, served as an assistant prosecutor and a judge before becoming the top prosecutor in 2004 for Wayne County, which includes Detroit and is the state’s most populous county.