"Prosecutor clears career thief of armed robbery conviction"
was the headline from the Milwaukee Sentinel when they wrote of the
case (Milwaukee Sentinel 2/22/1994). It arose from a case that Ron
first saw in the winter of 1994. At approximately 10 o'clock in the
morning Ron was handling a Habeas Corpus motion in front of the Honorable
Maxine White. Another assistant DA informed Judge White that she would
not be able to conduct a jury trial that day because she had an older
case set in front of another judge, also set for trial. Judge White,
looking around the courtroom, saw Mr. Dague and asked if he would
be willing to conduct the jury trial on the case, State of Wisconsin
v. Melvin R. Smith. Although he had never seen the file, read the
police reports, nor talked to the witnesses, Ron agreed to review
the file over the lunch hour and see if he could conduct the trial,
rather than delay the jury trial that Mr. Smith had requested. At
1:30 p.m., the same day, Ron began jury selection for the trial in
which Melvin Smith was accused of 2 counts of Armed Robbery, and one
of Attempted Armed Robbery on February 14, 1993. Two and one half
days later, the jury came back with a guilty verdict and Judge White
remanded the Mr. Smith into custody for sentencing in approximately
During those four weeks, Ron went over the testimony and evidence
from the jury trial. "Something about it just didn't feel
right," Asst. Dist. Atty. Ronald Dague said of the conviction. "Rather
than just ignore them, I trusted my feelings. I felt it was my obligation
to look further." (Milwaukee Sentinel 2/22/1994)
Ron conducted his own investigation between the jury trial and the scheduled sentencing date. He reviewed photos and records from a store that the defendant had been in the night of the crime. He then walked the path that the defendant was alleged to have traveled. Ron began to realize that, despite the verdict, Melvin Smith might not have committed the crime. Locating and personally interviewing witnesses that had not been subpoenaed for the jury trial, all the new evidence that Ron uncovered, kept pointing to the innocence of Mr. Smith. Before going to his superiors or back to the judge, Ron wanted to talk to the eyewitnesses, the victims of the crimes. He placed telephone calls to all three victims from the jury trial. (None of them lived in Milwaukee and had come to the city for the jury trial). Only one called back, but what she said further confirmed Ron's concerns about the verdict. She told Ron that she and her friends, the other persons robbed, thought that the person the police brought back to the scene for identification looked different from the robber who had taken their money at the threat of a gun. She told Ron they didn't want to tell the police that because they thought that it would ruin the case. But she told Ron that all three of them didn't think that the right person had been convicted, despite their unwavering testimony at the jury trial.
The role of a judge in one way is like that of a prosecutor:
Their primary duty is Justice.
After telling his supervisors in the DA's office what he had learned,
Ron went to the sentencing. In front of Judge Maxine White , ADA Ronald
Dague explained the evidence that he had developed between the jury
trial verdict and the sentencing . He then made a motion to vacate
the jury verdict and dismiss the three felony counts for which Mr.
Smith had been convicted. At first incredulous, upon hearing the evidence
that Ron had unearthed, the Honorable Maxine White, vacated the conviction
and dismissed the criminal charges. "'What he (Dague)
did is what we look for in this office, people that don't just want
convictions, but want to see the right thing done.' Reddin said"
(Deputy District Attorney Jon Reddin was the head of the felony prosecution
unit at the time) (All quotes from the Milwaukee Sentinel Tuesday
February 22, 1994).
Ron Dague For Judge