An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge with nearly three decades of legal experience has been assigned to preside over the trial of the man accused of killing five Capital Gazette staffers last month.
Judge Laura S. Kiessling will be responsible for setting a trial date, scheduling other matters and presiding over the trial of Jarrod Ramos, according to an order filed Friday.
Ramos, 38, was indicted last week on 23 counts, including first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault and weapons offenses. An initial appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.
Ramos is accused of blasting his way into the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis with a shotgun on June 28 and killing Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a longtime sports writer; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
The Capital Gazette is owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
Kiessling, 54, was named the administrative judge for the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County in April 2015, after serving as an associate judge for five years.
Anne Colt Leitess, chief of the special victims unit for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, worked with Kiessling in Anne Arundel County and tried cases before her.
Leitess, who is running for Anne Arundel State’s Attorney, praised Kiessling’s knowledge of the law and preparation for court.
“She was always meticulously prepared,” Leitess said.
Leitess spoke of trying a murder case before Kiessling that had some complex legal issues to discuss.
“She would have thoroughly researched it. Some judges don’t do that,” Leitess said. “It’s very refreshing for litigants to be in front of a judge who is prepared.”
Before Kiessling was appointed to the bench, she worked as a prosecutor in the Anne Arundel State’s Attorney’s office from 1995 to 2010. She served as a deputy state’s attorney and chief of the hate crimes prosecution unit, and was a member of the sexual offense and child abuse trial team.
Michael Dunty, an assistant city state’s attorney who has worked as a prosecutor in Anne Arundel County, said Kiessling “is smart and knows the law.”
“As both a prosecutor and a judge she was fair and balanced to both sides.” Dunty said. He said he could not think of “a more qualified judge to handle this case.”
Former Anne Arundel County Deputy State’s Attorney William Roessler, who has known Kiessling since she was a law clerk to Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams, also spoke of her preparation.
The duo tried a number of murder cases together. Roessler recalled her cross-examination of a defense expert witness in the trial of Terry Harriet Pierce Eslin.
Eslin, accused in the death of her husband, claimed spousal abuse. But Kiessling and Roessler told jurors that she viciously killed her husband.
Kiessling managed to get the witness to admit that they had never previously testified as an expert witness. Eslin was convicted and sentenced in 2004 to life in prison in the death of her husband.
In another case Kiessling prosecuted, she demonstrated compassion for the victim — a female midshipman who accused three former Naval Academy football players of rape. Rather than pursue a conviction, prosecutors in 2001 negotiated a deal with the defendants that required them to leave the academy, which allowed the young woman to continue at the academy away from the men she said assaulted her.
"One of our goals was for the victim to be comfortable in her surroundings and go on to graduate from the Naval Academy, where she has wanted to go all her life," Kiessling told The Baltimore Sun at the time.
After Kiessling moved to the bench, Roessler said, she had a reputation among attorneys for being “firm but fair.”
Kiessing earned a law degree at the Catholic University of American in 1989 and was admitted to Maryland and District of Columbia bars in 1990. She earned a bachelor's degree from Lehigh University in 1986.
Some might recognize Kiessling, who was seen last year at an Orioles game with Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. A spokesman for Ripken confirmed Friday that the couple is still dating.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this story.