After four years of high-profile lawsuits and progressive policies, Bucks County prosecutor seeks re-election
After four teenagers went missing in Bucks County in 2017, Matt Weintraub was a reassuring and authoritative voice as law enforcement searched for them day after day as the country watched in concern – then horror after it they were found dead in a remote township of Solebury Farm.
In nationwide televised press conferences, Weintraub, then acting prosecutor, gave daily updates and, when authorities solved the crime, quietly brokered a deal with boy killer Cosmo DiNardo, who drove detectives to their bodies in exchange for a plea deal that spared him the death penalty.
But before that result, behind closed doors, Weintraub said he was crying, in frustration and anger that authorities could not resolve the case sooner and bring the boys home to their families. Yet his negotiations with DiNardo and his lawyer resulted in a conclusion – and ultimately, he said, a measure of justice as DiNardo was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life imprisonment in a state prison. .
Four years later, as Weintraub reflects on those early days in dealing with one of the most heinous crimes in Bucks County history, he says it taught him to take decisive action and helped shaping his work as the county’s senior attorney.
“I remember thinking ‘I have to find a DA graduation diploma,” Weintraub said in a recent interview. “’I’m going to have to learn to speak better. I’ll have to learn to be the sniper. And then one crisis happened after another. As Bucks County’s top law enforcement official, he oversaw a series of high-profile lawsuits.
There was the rape, murder and dismemberment of Grace Packer, 14, by her adoptive mother’s boyfriend. Jacob Sullivan was on death row for killing the girl and storing her body in kitty litter before cutting up her body and disposing of its remains in the woods of Luzerne County. And there was the case of Dominique and Shana Decret, a mother and daughter who killed five of their relatives, including 9-year-old twins and a 13-year-old boy, in a cramped Morrisville apartment. They were sentenced to life in prison after admitting to the crimes.
In November, Republican Weintraub seeks re-election as DA in a county where Democrats have an advantage of 13,000 voters. His first election was in 2017, when he had just dealt with the DiNardo case. This time, he’s looking to resume his duties as the GOP’s only non-commissioned officer, not only in Bucks County, but all of the Pennsylvania suburbs surrounding Philadelphia.
Weintraub, 52, is aware of the issues but says to him that work is not about politics. And he hopes his pragmatic approach to criminal justice can cross party lines and attract security-conscious voters to their communities.
“I used to believe that if you want to be in the area of criminal law you are either trying to lock people up or get them out,” he said. “Well, that’s a gross oversimplification. There are not two sides; there are no sides. There is one side, and it’s about getting it right. It is about seeking justice.
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Her opponent is Antonetta Stancu, a former prosecutor on her team who is committed to focusing on progressive policing and public safety.
Stancu, in an interview with The Inquirer, criticized his former boss’s interest in diversion programs for people with mental illness as being too little, too late. And she said he allows friendships and political considerations to influence the decisions of his office. Stancu is committed to bringing more transparency to work and reconfiguring the office budget to focus more on issues beyond the courtroom.
Weintraub and his supporters point out that he brought more to the office than successful convictions. For the past two years he has directed programs for low-level drug offenders, shifting them from incarceration in favor of treatment, and helped create a “co-policing” program that pairs local officers with. social workers to respond to calls for help.
County Republican Party Chairman Patricia Poprik said Weintraub’s reputation for being “tough but impartial” has earned her the respect of voters.
“He doesn’t turn his back on anyone, victim or suspect,” Poprik said. “His compassion speaks for itself and he made it his priority to not leave anyone thrown out and forgotten.
A self-proclaimed “regular Southampton guy,” Weintraub never considered becoming a district attorney. He studied law, he says, out of a desire to help people. After a stint as an attorney in his native Bucks, he worked in Lehigh and Cape May counties, but was drawn in 2011 to then-attorney David Heckler, who groomed Weintraub as his successor.
Neither could have predicted the sheer number of crimes that have garnered national attention that Weintraub would be called upon to prosecute.
Outside the courtroom, Weintraub said he pushed local law enforcement agencies to supply Narcan to their officers and worked with federal authorities to provide resources for drug trafficking investigations. And months before George Floyd’s death, he moderated community conversations between residents and police and hosted screenings of the film. Walking in black: LOVE is the answer. The speech, he said, was frank and at times uncomfortable, but necessary.
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“If I just want to sit down and congratulate myself and let the cases come, people would say ‘Yes, you are doing a good job’, but the obligation is greater than that,” he said. “It’s not only about keeping your community safe, but also about making your community feel safe. And the way you do it, if you’re really engaged, is to be out there with them.
This attitude impressed Danny Thomas, executive director of the Bucks County Peace Center, a nonprofit that works to reduce conflict and violence in communities.
Thomas worked with Weintraub to organize these meetings with police and community members to “build bridges and work for justice.”
“Matt is more interested in doing the right thing first, and at times that can seem at odds with what people beyond Bucks County think should be Republican or Democratic values,” Thomas said.
Weintraub hopes voters will understand this as well.
“If you meet me, if you know me, if you’ve heard me speak or seen me at work or outside, that’s me,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s so ingrained in me, but I take this mission to heart.”