June Jeffries, a 25-year veteran homicide prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, retired last month, leaving behind a career that steered her into the darkest fissures of society. Her specialty for more than two decades: prosecuting people who kill children.
In an interview with the BLT yesterday, the 54-year-old discussed her career. Her first case involving a child slaying came in the mid-1980s: A 10 1⁄2-month-old boy, Gregory, had been starved and beaten to death by his mother, Winda Cannon. Cannon got probation -- Jeffries says she was beside herself -- but it was later revoked for a violation. Jeffries kept the photos of Gregory in an envelope in a credenza on her desk. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, she pulled them out.
“I have kept his pictures, baby Gregory, and I’m probably the only person in the world who has pictures of this child and thinks of him -- and I think that’s skewed,” she says.
Jeffries' has a son herself, Rudy, 23, who recently graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and is now a marshal's aide at the Supreme Court.
Aside from a brief stint in the U.S. Attorney Office’s appellate section, Jeffries spent most of her time in D.C. Superior Court. In 2006, The Washington Post profiled her work, describing Jeffries’ “slow drift toward specializing in this sub-stream of American homicide.” (Click here for the story.)
There were high-profile cases in addition to those that drew little attention: Jeffries successfully prosecuted Marthell Dean in the 1997 shooting death of Metropolitan Police Officer Brian Gibson and Walter Johnson in the 2001 slaying of Transit Police Officer Marlon Morales.
"She served our community extremely well and will be sorely missed," says Channing Phillips, the office's principal assistant U.S. attorney.
Jeffries says her future is on hold, at least until after first of the year. She’s considering teaching, or maybe private practice. “But there will be no dead bodies in my future, no autopsies, no dead children,” she says. She's been helping out with Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in the meantime, working the phone banks. (Jeffries, whose son Rudy played hockey, signs her e-mails "JMJ Busy Hockey Mama for Obama.")
Jeffries, a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, grew up in Detroit. She gravitated to the idea of becoming a lawyer when she was 5 years old (her mom's favorite show was Perry Mason), but after seeing Jimmy Stewart’s turn in “The FBI Story,” she decided she wanted to get her law degree and join the bureau. At age 13, she wrote J. Edgar Hoover, asking for information about becoming an agent. In her letter, Jeffries noted dryly that Hoover wouldn’t hire African-American or female agents, but “you’ll be dead by the time I’m old enough to work there anyway.” Hoover, she says, sent her an envelope filled with brochures advertising clerical positions at the FBI.
She became a federal prosecutor instead, and at her retirement party recently, she read a letter of thanks from FBI director Robert Mueller III, whom she worked closely with in the homicide section. (Mueller was chief of the section under Covington & Burling’s Eric Holder, then U.S. attorney.)
“I wanted something from the FBI ,” she says. “[Mueller] wrote a lovely letter.”