New top lawyer: Case will see trial

State’s at­tor­ney-elect will pros­e­cute sus­pect in June 28 news­room slay­ings

The Capital - - FRONT PAGE - By Danielle Ohl dohl@capgaznews.com

Anne Arun­del County’s new head pros­e­cu­tor will lead on the Cap­i­tal Gazette shoot­ing case, she said Satur­day, and pre­dicts the case will go to trial.

State’s At­tor­ney-elect Anne Colt Leitess said she would pros­e­cute the case fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of her pre­de­ces­sor Wes Adams, who has han­dled the case since the June 28 at­tack.

“I ex­pect it to go to trial,” Colt Leitess said, though the case might be de­layed.

Anne Arun­del County Cir­cuit Court Judge Laura Rip­ken in Au­gust set a trial for Jan. 15, to last about 10 days. But more re­cently, Rip­ken is­sued a di­rec­tive ex­tend­ing the de­fense’s plea dead­line and can­celling an Oc­to­ber mo­tion’s hear­ing. There are still hear­ings sched­uled for De­cem­ber, though whether they will hap­pen as sched­uled is un­cer­tain.

The county’s top pub­lic de­fender Bill Davis, who is rep­re­sent­ing the sus­pected killer, may step away from the case due to

health con­cerns. As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Eliz­a­beth Palan, who is also rep­re­sent­ing the ac­cused, did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The case will de­ter­mine whether five Cap­i­tal Gazette em­ploy­ees — Ger­ald Fis­chman, Rob Hi­aasen, John McNa­mara, Re­becca Smith and Wendi Win­ters — were killed by Jar­rod Ramos, a Lau­rel man with a doc­u­mented grudge against The Cap­i­tal news­pa­per and for­mer colum­nist Eric Hart­ley.

Po­lice say Ramos killed the five on June 28 af­ter shoot­ing through the glass news­room en­trance in Annapolis.

Colt Leitess said Davis’ health con­cerns are not the only fac­tors that might de­lay the case. Davis pre­vi­ously filed a mo­tion ask­ing for more time to ex­plore a not crim­i­nally re­spon­si­bly by rea­son of in­san­ity plea. The de­fense has a mid-De­cem­ber dead­line to file.

“There has not been a fi­nal plea,” Colt Leitess said. “Then af­ter that plea, it’s 30 to 60 days be­cause they (the de­fense) have to have ex­pert wit­nesses, then we have the op­por­tu­nity to re­spond. The state has (a) right to have eval­u­a­tions as well, if there’s a plea of a cer­tain kind. That’s im­por­tant to know all those fac­tors.”

Sev­eral, if not all, of the state’s at­tor­neys pros­e­cut­ing the case are ex­pected to leave the of­fice in the com­ing months, Adams said.

He ex­pects 10 or 11 lawyers, in­clud­ing sev­eral top deputies, to move on, he said. He said he has one res­ig­na­tion in hand but de­clined to name the per­son.

It’s not clear whether the de­par­tures are due to planned re­tire­ments, ca­reer moves or Colt Leitess’ win.

Adams, af­ter he beat Colt Leitess in 2014, fired four peo­ple, in­clud­ing for­mer Deputy State’s At­tor­ney Kathy Rogers, on his first day. He has pre­vi­ously said they were fail­ing the peo­ple of Anne Arun­del County.

Adams said it’s Colt Leitess’ pre­rog­a­tive to hire new lead­er­ship in the of­fice.

“In the same way that I brought in my peo­ple, she’s go­ing to bring in the peo­ple she trusts,” he said. “That’s stan­dard.”

Colt Leitess said she was not look­ing to im­me­di­ately dis­miss peo­ple once she as­sumes the of­fice in Jan­uary. And while she said she hopes to re­in­state a train­ing pro­gram pared back un­der Adams, she said she hasn’t yet dis­cussed bring­ing back any of the em­ploy­ees who left or were fired un­der her pre­de­ces­sor.

“There are a lot of peo­ple who are tal­ented in the of­fice right now, some of whom I only know about from read­ing in the pa­per and see­ing their suc­cesses,” she said.

“I’m not go­ing to come in and clean house. … I think it’s wrong to get rid of vet­eran at­tor­neys who have done a good job.”

For­mer Bal­ti­more City State’s At­tor­ney Gregg Bern­stein un­der­went two tran­si­tions, both into and out of of­fice, when he as­sumed the role in 2011 and lost re-elec­tion in 2014.

He said tran­si­tions in a state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice hap­pen more quickly than they might in a mayor’s or gov­er­nor’s.

“State’s at­tor­ney’s of­fices by def­i­ni­tion are fast-paced op­er­a­tions with things hap­pen­ing minute by minute and cases on the clock,” he said.

Bern­stein in­stalled his top three deputies, but stressed re­ly­ing on in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge.

“You don’t want to come in with a bull-in-a-china-shop men­tal­ity and im­me­di­ately start re­plac­ing peo­ple and start bring­ing peo­ple in,” he said. “Cer­tainly as time went by, I re­placed peo­ple, but I don’t think it’s help­ful to do that right off the bat.”

Adams has said when he won the 2014 elec­tion against Colt Leitess, he was greeted with locked doors. Colt Leitess and oth­ers have ac­cused Adams of fos­ter­ing a cli­mate of fear in the of­fice.

But both she and Adams have re­ported cor­dial begin­nings to the tran­si­tion of power this year.

Adams and Colt Leitess said they have spo­ken on the phone and emailed back and forth to be­gin the tran­si­tion process. Adams said he asked ev­ery divi­sion chief to pre­pare sum­mary re­ports of all cases and up­com­ing trial dates.

“My job is to en­sure that ev­ery piece of in­for­ma­tion that I can pro­vide to Anne is avail­able to her as early as I can make it ...” he said, “So on Jan. 7, when she re­ceives the of­fice, ev­ery case can pro­ceed as quick and smooth as pos­si­ble.”

Colt Leitess, who led Bal­ti­more’s Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit af­ter los­ing re-elec­tion in 2014, will re­turn to the Anne Arun­del of­fice with 11 homi­cide con­vic­tions, she said.

She looks for­ward to pro­vid­ing bet­ter train­ing so pros­e­cu­tors and other staff can raise the con­vic­tion rate on drunken and drugged driv­ing.

She also stressed com­mu­nity polic­ing and pointed to Bal­ti­more city pro­grams that State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby has im­ple­mented to en­gage young res­i­dents as a way to com­bat gang pres­ence in Annapolis and the county.

“You have to sup­port, es­pe­cially our im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, so that no­body is afraid to come and re­port what’s hap­pen­ing to them,” she said. “If you iso­late peo­ple … then the gangs can in­fil­trate.”

Colt Leitess

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE

“I’m not go­ing to come in and clean house. … I think it’s wrong to get rid of vet­eran at­tor­neys who have done a good job,” says State’s At­tor­ney-elect Anne Colt Leitess.

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