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    Campaign for Suffolk DA gets off to a strong start

    Hundreds pack event to hear the five candiates

    It’s only April, but the first competitive race for Suffolk district attorney since 2002 is already drawing strong interest.

    About 400 people packed the auditorium of English High School in Jamaica Plain Monday night to hear from the five candidates vying for the seat.

    Domingos DaRosa, a 40-year-old Hyde Park resident who attended the forum with his 14-year-old daughter, Kayla, said he cannot wait to cast his ballot in the primary Sept. 4.

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    “I’m beyond excited,” DaRosa said. “We haven’t had a race for DA in over 16 years. . . . It’s very important to come out and vote for an individual who can make change in that office.”

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    In February, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that he would not be seeking reelection in November. He has served for 16 years as the top state prosecutor for Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.

    A wave of new candidates has emerged for top prosecutor positions, with competitive races not just in Suffolk but also Middlesex and Worcester counties.

    In Suffolk, the five candidates are all Democrats — State Representative Evandro Carvalho, former Suffolk prosecutor Linda Champion, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Greg Henning, Boston defense attorney Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins, former legal counsel for Massport and the MBTA.

    On Monday, the candidates took questions from a panel assembled by the Jamaica Plain Progressives and the Boston chapter of the NAACP. They were asked about their vision for the office, how they would work to lower incarceration rates, what protections they would afford undocumented immigrants, and whether they believe young adults should be treated differently from older offenders.

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    Here is the flavor of their remarks.

    Carvalho, who was born in Cape Verde, had this to say about immigration: “I live among immigrants. I know they’re hiding. . . . We have to protect the people who are living here,” he said.

    McAuliffe said she believes high bail and the fear of long prison sentences has forced innocent defendants to plead guilty. Suffolk prosecutors “have become experts at stacking up the odds,” she said.

    Rollins said many people are reluctant to testify in court. “They don’t trust the police. They don’t trust the prosecutor’s office. We need a new lens,” she said.

    Henning said in his 10 years as a prosecutor he has seen that lack of trust: “I’m a public servant who wants this position because I know I can contribute to a change,” he said.

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    Champion weighed in on whether prosecutors need to consider the science around brain development in young adults in assessing criminal responsibility.

    “Once you hit 18, you’re an adult. . . . If you commit a crime and say it’s because your brain is still developing, I want to have a talk with your mother.”

    Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.