Five women whose sons and husbands had been murdered in recent years appeared with Vignarajah to demonstrate support for the former Maryland deputy attorney general and to express outrage with a violent crime wave they partially blame on Mosby’s office.
They included a mother whose son was fatally shot in the back, a wife whose husband was gunned down while he called her from a sidewalk and a woman whose son was stabbed to death while bicycling home.
“Baltimore is in a dire situation and this current administration has no plan of action,” said Dawn Ponsi, whose son, Robert, was stabbed to death in January 2016.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in Baltimore since 2015 and Vignarajah and rival Democrat, Ivan Bates, have been trying to convince voters to hold Mosby’s administration accountable for the record violence by supporting them in the June 26 Democratic primary.
“Behind each of these statistics is a family that has been destroyed forever,” Vignarajah said at the event he held at South Baltimore’s Riverside Park.
After Vignarajah announced his 1 p.m. campaign event, Mosby called her own 1 p.m. news conference to present statistics on her office’s conviction rates. Later, her campaign released a statement detailing how her office has expanded services to victims of violence and their families — including money to help pay for rent, food and the release of impounded cars.
“And we are in regular contact with the families to help them as they rebuild their lives following the most horrific tragedies,” Mosby said.
Her statement included a quote from Latanya Bryant, the mother of a murder victim who praised the assistance she received from Mosby’s office: “My life will never be the same after the loss of my son. But I am so grateful to the State’s Attorney and her team for helping me through that horrible time.”
The statistics Mosby released show that she has maintained a 93 percent conviction rate since taking office in 2015. That’s a decline from her predecessor, whose 95 percent rate Mosby criticized when she first ran for the office in 2014.
Meanwhile, Mosby is dropping about 38 percent of cases, about 10 percentage points more than her predecessor.
Bates and Vignarajah have called attention to those unsuccessful prosecutions. They also blame her for the city’s record gun violence and characterize her office as ineffective — the same claim Mosby made against her predecessor.
Still, the two challengers have a tough battle in trying to defeat Mosby.
She became one of the nation’s youngest city prosecutors when she won a stunning victory in 2014 at age 34. She drew national attention the following spring when she criminally charged six Baltimore police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. None were convicted.
Vignarajah highlighted Mosby’s conviction record while appearing with the five women who shared their stories of loss and their shared frustration with the prosecutor’s office.
Velma Marshall’s son was shot in his back during a home invasion, his mother said. The alleged killer was convicted, but appealed and won a new trial. Marshall said she was surprised to learn the charges were abruptly dropped.
“They said it was self-defense,” Marshall said.
She says her son, Charles Hill, was shot four times in his back, and his killing couldn’t be self-defense. He had taken the gun away from intruders who broke into his grandmother’s home, Marshall said.
Prosecutors said they discovered evidence omitted during the trial that Hill was accidentally shot by another man. They said they repeatedly called Marshall, visited her home, and kept her informed about their plans to drop the case.
Two teens charged as adults in the fatal attack on a cyclist in North Baltimore earlier this year were convicted by a judge Monday of robbery and first-degre
Like the other women, Marshall felt lost and uninformed as the case proceeded, she says.
Dawn Ponsi’s son, Robert, was stabbed to death while bicycling home in January 2016. The case against his killer was delayed when the prosecutor, Patrick Moran, was charged with distributing child pornography.
Moran, a former assistant state’s attorney, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Mosby has spoken repeatedly of a need to bolster support for victims and witnesses. She has doubled the size of the unit that supports them and grant funding for such efforts has increased 31 percent during her tenure, she said.
Still, her office has dropped an increasing percentage of cases every year because of uncooperative victims and witnesses.
“We want to be respectful of these families as they process this tragedy, and work with them to make the judicial process as bearable as possible,” Mosby said in a statement. “I understand how frustrating this process can be for these families and I appreciate their understandable anger.”
Appearing with Vignarajah on Wednesday, Tina Forrester said Mosby’s office hasn’t gone far enough to help grieving families. Her husband, Jim Forrester, was gunned down outside the Baltimore Tattoo Museum in December.
Forrester said she didn’t know what was happening with the prosecution of the East Baltimore man charged in his killing. Michael Bailey, 29, is scheduled for trial next month.
“The only way I got information about victim’s rights is by talking to other victims,” she said. “We were left on our own.”