Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby gathered with mothers of homicide victims in a West Baltimore rowhouse Tuesday to announce $2.4 million in grant funding to help crime victims and witnesses.
Mosby said the federal money would be used mostly to hire staff members to work more closely with crime victims and guide them through the criminal justice process. Authorities said it's a crucial part of winning cases in court — and closing cases where an arrest has yet to be made.
"Our prosecutors are only as strong in court as the cooperation we receive from victims and witnesses of crime," Mosby said. "We understand that cooperation is often a direct result of my office's effort to accommodate them during the most inconvenient times of their lives."
Other funds will go to what officials said were simple but important gestures, like validating parking for those who venture downtown to meet with authorities, sprucing up a courthouse waiting room and establishing a bilingual support hotline. The money won't be spent on witness relocation services.
The grant to the Baltimore prosecutor's office was one of the largest of 99 grants to Maryland organizations totaling $46 million announced Monday by Gov. Larry Hogan. The Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention secured the money from a federal victims' assistance fund.
Mosby has called Baltimore the "home of witness intimidation" and vowed as a candidate to fund a premier victim and witness unit by breaking the lease on the state's attorney's office's downtown office space and moving staff back into the downtown courthouses.
That idea was scuttled after she took office, but Mosby said she has been pursuing grant funds more aggressively, pointing to a 27 percent increase during her tenure. This year, $6.4 million in state and federal grants will pay for 74 staff positions.
State officials, meanwhile, promoted their own increased effort to secure grants. Glenn Fueston, executive director of Hogan's crime office, said "every single eligible application was funded" this year, including $35.9 million to continue and expand projects and $10.2 million for new projects or services.
In Baltimore, families of homicide victims — particularly those whose cases are unsolved — have long complained of little communication from homicide detectives and prosecutors. Two advocates now work in the Police Department to keep in touch with those families. Funding announced Tuesday will add two more.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the positions are the first of their kind in the agency's history.
"We'll have more people that can stand in the gaps that exist all too often in the criminal justice system that define a person's experience and really shape whether someone wants to come forward and cooperate," Davis said.
Mosby said at the news conference that while one of the top reasons for cases being dropped remains the lack of cooperation from victims and witnesses, her office maintains a 92 percent conviction rate on felony cases.
Shortly after the event concluded, The Wall Street Journal published an article showing that the felony conviction rate for her office was 53 percent, compared with 67 percent the previous four years. The number of dropped cases also increased, from 29 percent to 43 percent.
Mosby, who has been state's attorney since 2015, told the Journal that her 92 percent figure referred only to cases that went to trial and did not include dropped cases. From 2008 to 2014, prosecutors won between 95 percent to 97 percent of felony cases that went to trial, the paper reported.