Share story

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal took steps Friday to look into more cold cases and questionable convictions, a move he said is meant to ensure public confidence in prosecutions.

Grewal said a panel will study creating new units to look into convictions that have been challenged and cold cases.

His announcement comes days after Passaic County prosecutors said they would not retry two men whose convictions in a 1993 murder of a video store clerk in Paterson were thrown out by a judge last year.

The reversal of the convictions of Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee came after new tests found a different man’s DNA on a key piece of evidence. At a new trial, Kelley and Lee would have been allowed to present evidence against the other man. An appeals court wrote last month that the DNA findings “seriously undermined” the soundness of the guilty verdicts against the two men.

“As someone who has spent most of his professional life as a state or federal prosecutor, I know how important it is that the public have confidence in the work that we do,” Grewal said in a statement. “I look forward to taking steps that will help demonstrate to the public our commitment to doing justice every day.”

Grewal said Friday the state will take over the investigation into the store clerk’s murder, and that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali will review the prosecutor’s office’s actions in the case.

A message to the Passaic County prosecutor’s office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned Friday.

Grewal said plans to study creating the cold case and conviction units have been discussed since he took office in January, but that the decision not to retry Kelley and Lee pushed the issue to the forefront.