Childhood passion takes city native to courthouse|[02/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 18, 2008

Though she’s only 48 days into her new job, Assistant District Attorney Angela Carpenter made history the day she agreed to join District Attorney Ricky Smith in his office.

“It’s definitely quite an honor,” said Carpenter, the first woman hired to prosecute felonies in Warren, Issaquena and Sharkey counties. “And the gender aspect brings an additional responsibility to do my very best at this job. This is still a profession that consists mostly of men. I’m very glad that Ricky thought enough of me to take on this task.”

Carpenter said she learned she was a first when Smith mentioned it on Jan. 2, the day they were sworn into office.

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“That kind of added a bit of pressure,” she said, laughing.

However, Smith said, hiring Carpenter had little to do with gender.

“I was immediately impressed with her drive, dedication and motivation to making a difference, in addition to her knowledge of the law,” he said. “And she hasn’t let me down.”

Smith said he selected Carpenter from a number of highly qualified candidates, some from the Attorney General’s Office and the Hinds County DA’s Office. He notified her of the decision in late December.

“I think I screamed into his ear,” Carpenter said, laughing once again. “I had let the scream out before I realized I did it.”

Since stepping into her new role seven weeks ago, Carpenter and the rest of the district attorney’s staff, which includes fellow assistant DA Dewey Arthur, have presented 126 cases to three grand juries and have closed more than 100 additional cases through plea agreements, revocations or dismissals. Carpenter said the group has had to put in a lot of extra hours in the evenings and on weekends.

“It’s been busy,” Carpenter said. “But that was expected. We’re doing the job we were put here to do.”

When Carpenter, 39, can take a breather from the world of criminal prosecution, she said she enjoys writing, singing with the choir at King David Church No. 1 and spending time with her daughter, India, a 15-year-old sophomore at Vicksburg High.

Before becoming one of Smith’s assistants, Carpenter was in private practice in Vicksburg for three years. Before that, she spent time as an associate at Dockins, Terhune and Banks in Jackson, where she had also been hired as a clerk while attending the Mississippi College School of Law.

Carpenter received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi and later a master’s degree in political science from Mississippi College. She is a 1986 graduate of Vicksburg High School.

The former Gator Girl noted that her interest in the legal field started at about age 13.

“My mother always told me I was a great arguer,” said the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Carpenter.

But while Carpenter has found success in what started as a childhood passion, the road getting there wasn’t always smoothly paved. When she started law school in 1997, she was the single mother of a 5-year-old. Carpenter said balancing studies and motherhood, while also trying to make a living, took “a lot of prayer,” which remains important in her life today.

“Things were tough then, and things aren’t always easy now,” she said. “This job can be very trying at times. But with my faith and family, I know everything will keep working out.”