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Marilyn Mosby seeks to address crime, larger issues

Marilyn Mosby seeks to balance crime-fighting amid historic spike, with addressing larger issues

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said that amid a historic rise in gun violence she wants to continue trying to address systemic issues that drive crime while cracking down on violent offenders.

In an interview Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun, Mosby pointed to a 78 percent conviction rate for homicide cases and said she will go to Annapolis to push the legislature for increased penalties for second-degree murder, serial sex offenders and drunken-driving homicides.

Mosby said her goal as the city's top prosecutor since last year has also been to foster stronger ties with the community, in part through reaching out to neighborhood groups, creating a program for youths and establishing a diversionary program to help first-time, nonviolent felony drug offenders get jobs.

About 60 people passed through those programs in her first year in office, including one man who completed 150 hours of community service and is working full-time, even as his brother was murdered last year, she said.

"He's changed the course of his life," Mosby said. "That's not something you can really measure when it comes to quantitative evidence."

Mosby, who at 33 was the youngest top prosecutor in the country when she was elected, was catapulted to national attention in May when she filed charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. The move was applauded by many as a rare step to hold police officers criminally accountable, and criticized by others as an overreach.

Beginning around that time, Baltimore experienced a sudden spike in violence and for the year saw a per-capita record of 344 homicides, the highest total number since 1993, when the city had 100,000 more residents. Nonfatal shootings rose more than 70 percent. Mosby said underlying factors such as the poverty rate and joblessness were to blame.

"I'm not a criminologist," Mosby said. "We have decades-old failed policies that we are seeing the results of. … It's about jobs, it's about opportunities, it's about education. We have not addressed these systemic issues."

The first trial related to Gray's death, of Officer William G. Porter, ended with jurors deadlocked. The second officer's trial is slated to begin next week. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are prohibited from discussing the case due to a gag order.

With her increased public profile, Mosby has spoken around the country over the past year, often discussing inequities in the criminal justice system that disproportionately affect people of color. She regularly cites statistics that one in three black men will go to prison in their lifetime, and are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, among others.

City prosecutors handled 50,000 cases last year. Mosby said her administration has not handed down directives to her courtroom prosecutors to change their approach to how cases are disposed.

"I have offered my prosecutors the ability to utilize their discretion," she said. "If it is a case where we can refer to a diversionary program, I'll support that. Violent repeat offenders, I've made clear we don't have very much tolerance for that.

"You want to utilize the courts, which are inundated, for the worst of the worst," she said.

Mosby added positions last year to interact with the community as well as victims and witnesses, and said she remains committed to acquiring more funding — through government or outside fundraising — to bolster such programs. Her office turned an annual office holiday party into a banquet fundraiser involving the community, raising $17,600 for victim services after expenses. The Baltimore-born actress Jada Pinkett Smith contributed $10,000.

"Old women who get their purses snatched and they don't have the money for medication, we're able to provide for them. The [state] victims' compensation fund doesn't do that," Mosby said.

The state's attorney's office suffered high turnover among its prosecutor ranks last year and brought no proactive indictments as it had in past years. Mosby said her Major Investigations Unit was working on long-term investigations that are "ongoing."

The Criminal Strategies Unit, an idea borrowed from Manhattan to monitor repeat offenders and feed information to prosecutors, stumbled when an original part of Mosby's team, former police officer Joshua Rosenblatt, left the office. Mosby believes that unit is on solid footing now under the direction of Assistant State's Attorney Charles Blomquist, a veteran homicide prosecutor.

Mosby has pledged to personally try cases, but has yet to identify a case she wants to handle.

"It was a very tumultuous year," Mosby said. "But I told you before, I'm a trial attorney. You can bank on the fact that I will be trying a case. I don't know if it will be this year."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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