New top lawyer: Case will see trial
State’s attorney-elect will prosecute suspect in June 28 newsroom slayings
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.”
“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.