On Friday, 10 days before her trial was scheduled to begin, Tracy McCarter received some welcome news: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had announced that his office would no longer proceed with prosecuting her for murder in the death of her estranged husband.
“After carefully reviewing all the evidence and extensively discussing this matter with members of my office, I have a reasonable doubt of whether Ms. McCarter stabbed Mr. Murray with the requisite intent to support a conviction of murder in the second degree,” Bragg wrote in a November 18 letter to state Supreme Court judge Diane Kiesel, who has been presiding over the case. He also filed a motion to dismiss. (Bragg’s office declined to comment on his 11th-hour decision.)
On March 2, 2020, McCarter was arrested for the death of her husband, Jim Murray. The pair had been separated for seven months as Murray’s alcoholism had worsened, leading him to behave violently against her. That night, McCarter allowed Murray into her apartment, intending to let him sleep off his drunkenness on her couch. Instead, he demanded money and, when she refused, strangled her. McCarter grabbed a kitchen knife to ward him off and he ended up with a stab wound to his chest, from which he later died. (In legal filings, McCarter has maintained that Murray lunged, tripped, and fell on the knife.)
She was arrested and, at the request of the district attorney’s office, jailed at Rikers Island without having been indicted for six months while the Covid-19 pandemic closed all court proceedings, including grand jury hearings. In September, a grand jury indicted her on second-degree murder. She was released on electronic monitoring shortly thereafter.
McCarter’s case attracted the attention of organizers with Survived and Punished, a national network that works with criminalized and incarcerated abuse survivors. Members formed the “Stand with Tracy” campaign and attended every court hearing, often sporting bright-red campaign shirts. They also publicized her case and worked with other organizations, such as Color of Change, to press the district attorney to drop the charges.
While running for Manhattan district attorney, Bragg had tweeted his support for McCarter, stating, “Prosecuting a domestic violence survivor who acted in self-defense is unjust.”
After taking office in January, however, he continued to prosecute McCarter. His office twice attempted to reduce the charges; each time, Judge Kiesel rejected those efforts.
As I previously reported at The Nation, the past two-and-a-half years of prosecution have negatively impacted all aspects of McCarter’s life. The hospital where she had worked as a nurse placed her on unpaid leave. She applied for other nursing jobs, but background checks revealed her pending murder charge and she was not hired. The charge also prevented her from physically attending classes to complete her master’s in nursing at Columbia University. (McCarter was able to attend online courses, but was barred from entering the campus.)
Until October, however, the judge had required McCarter to remain within the city’s five boroughs, a restriction causing her to miss the out-of-state births of her two grandchildren as well as every holiday and family milestone.
Bragg’s motion, said Sean Hecker, one of McCarter’s attorneys, “has righted a grievous injustice. Tracy McCarter is an innocent survivor of domestic violence who has suffered mightily from a criminal justice system that demands change.”
But, says Leigh Goodmark, director of the University of Maryland’s Gender Violence Clinic, Bragg has only done what his office requires. “When a prosecutor believes that dismissing a prosecution is in the interest of justice, that’s what they’re supposed to do,” she told The Nation. “Prosecutors are not just supposed to care about convictions. They’re supposed to care about doing justice.”
Goodmark hopes that Bragg and other prosecutors will more carefully examine the circumstances surrounding the acts of abuse survivors before choosing to bring a case before a grand jury.
For now, McCarter and her family are relieved at what seems to be the end of a nearly three-year ordeal.
“It’s always been of the utmost importance for us to spend the holidays together,” Ariel Robbins, McCarter’s oldest child, told The Nation. But McCarter’s pending prosecution and the court-imposed restrictions on travel have prevented them from doing so for the past two years. Instead, at Christmas, Robbins, her three adult siblings, and McCarter have spent 18 hours on FaceTime.
When Bragg was elected last year, Robbins believed that her mother’s ordeal would soon be over and that it was safe to become pregnant. But the charges remained, and she gave birth without her mother present this past August.
Now, she is looking forward to resuming family holidays. “I am excited that my mom will be able to spend Cairo’s first Christmas with him,” she said. “We won’t be taking any of our time together for granted.”
Siobhan Dingwall, a member of the Stand with Tracy campaign, told The Nation that, while campaign members are relieved, the motion is the result of relentless organizing and public pressure. “We know this decision was only possible because of the tremendous pressure he felt from tens of thousands of people across the country who tirelessly demanded DA Bragg #DropHerCharges for the past nearly three years,” she wrote in a statement.
But, Dingwall continued, “Tracy should never have been arrested, charged, or prosecuted in the first place. And while DA Bragg has taken the steps necessary to drop Tracy’s charges, he must keep his campaign promise by immediately dropping charges against the countless other survivors of gender-based violence that his office is actively prosecuting.”
McCarter’s legal ordeal is not quite over. Judge Kiesel must still rule on Bragg’s motion. McCarter will appear in court on November 28 to hear whether she is really and truly free.