It was both necessary and appropriate that Merced County District Attorney Larry D. Morse II step away from the prosecution of anyone involved in the three murders near Atwater in March 2013.
Morse's office had been preparing to prosecute those recently arrested in the deaths of Samantha Parreira, 16; Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18; and Mathew Fisher, 19. But a week after the first arrests, Morse's son Ethan was implicated in some aspect of the crime or its aftermath.
Once that arrest was made, all preparation and participation of the DA's office had to stop. Otherwise, it would appear the outcome and sentencing, no matter what it is, was tainted by favoritism.
This is the second incident in which one of the DA's sons has been accused of a crime. His older son, Dylan, was convicted of drunken driving resulting in one death in 2009. He spent three years in prison, but some insist he was treated leniently because his father is a district attorney, though Larry Morse had nothing to do with the Sonoma County prosecution.
This incident is different. A confrontation at a party for teens escalated, and five people were shot. The crime was under investigation for 15 months before three arrests were made last week. The DA's office was preparing to break its prosecution into two parts, one involving 19-year-olds Jose M. Carballido and Jose L. Botello, of Atwater, and the other involving Jacob Tellez, 18, of Merced.
Ethan Morse and Tellez are said to be friends, and Larry Morse said his son spoke willingly to sheriff's investigators before being arrested Friday. By Sunday, the DA had removed his office from all involvement.
Regardless of who prosecutes, justice for the victims is the first priority. Murder is a heinous crime, but gunning down someone running from the gunfire, as Samantha Parreira apparently was doing, is especially cruel and cowardly.
For the public, and the families of the victims, to accept that justice is being done, there can be no hint of interference. Not only must Larry Morse step aside, but so must his entire office — investigative staff, administrators and other prosecutors — because they report to him.