Russell Neverdon, a candidate for state's attorney, attended the family's news conference but watched from afar. He said plea bargains are a necessity in the criminal justice system — trials tie up courtrooms and lead to lengthy postponements — but said the process needs to be better explained to victims and their families.

"When you don't say anything, this is the reaction you'll get," said Neverdon, who said his office would be more transparent.

Hersl's sister, Jane Shott, noted Bernstein's pledge to remove repeat offenders from the streets. Johnson has prior convictions for burglary and robbery, receiving sentences of six years and seven years in prison, according to court records. "If they get plea bargains, they go right back," she said.

Members of Hersl's family also said they were upset by the way the state's attorney's office had handled Johnson's arrest in April. Johnson was released after being treated at a hospital as the crash was under investigation. That decision drew criticism, including from City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

The police report says Johnson was uncooperative at the hospital, initially refusing to give his name or date of birth. Within a week, Johnson filed an insurance claim saying he'd crashed into a pole and not mentioning Hersl's death, the report said.

State police said at the time that they were holding off on detaining Johnson because they did not want to charge him with a lesser crime that could obstruct prosecution for more serious charges such as vehicular manslaughter or homicide.

Marilyn Mosby, a candidate for state's attorney, spoke at the family's news conference. She said prosecutors' lack of communication with the Hersl family represented a "lack of professionalism" and a "culture of distrust." She declined to say what she believes an appropriate punishment for someone charged in such a case should be.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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