Meet the man behind Oregon's only 'Conviction Integrity Unit'

Deputy District Attorney Russ Ratto (Brian Smith/KATU)

If experience was the only prerequisite need to run the first conviction integrity unit in Oregon, Russ Ratto’s 36 years as a deputy district attorney with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office would be enough.

Consider the resume: Ratto has prosecuted aggravated murder and death penalty cases, numerous other homicides, sexual and violent assaults, worked on joint state/federal drug task forces and as a special assistant US Attorney.

District Attorney Rod Underhill, in appointing Ratto to look at how his office prosecuted past cases and how they will handle new ones, saying he would bring “integrity, experience, and dedication” to the role.

“My responsibility here is to both look backwards at the rear-end of cases – seeing if there’s a claim where something happened and I’m to look at them and see if we have a wrongful conviction,” Ratto said. “Historically this office has been concerned about making sure that we are not party to a wrongful conviction.”

It’s up to Ratto to develop protocols on how the DA’s office handles eyewitness accounts, use of informants, reviews of untested assault or rape kits, confirmatory drug lab testing and the continuing education of deputy district attorneys.

“The other part of having a successful criminal justice system with the DA’s office being a key part of that is to make sure as we go forward that we’ve got good protocols in place,” Ratto said.

Underhill said that in addition to investigating claims of innocence, Ratto’s job is act as a liason with the Oregon Attorney General regarding post-conviction relief (appeals), represent the DA’s office in cases before the Oregon Parole Board and Psychiatric Security Review Board.

Some recent cases include a convicted murderer who asked prosecutors to re-check his clothing for the blood of his victim: the blood was tested and again matched the victim’s. Another appeal involved a convicted burglar and rapist who wanted another DNA test to prove his innocence. Again, it came back a match.

“I have other cases on my desk I’m not going to talk about them right now, but If they exonerate a defendant we want to be in the courtroom moving to see that person released,” Ratto explained.

Other cases have been overturned, he said, because of questions prosecutors had about an informant.

“We found in those that there was a question in our mind about the informant that was used and as result we gave the defendant the benefit of the doubt and we backed out of those convictions,” he said.

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