Relatives rally for convicted murderer

Family of young woman who stabbed mother asks judge to reduce sentence

Drug program, counseling sought

Carroll County

December 18, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

In Kristi Lynn Ziemski's recurring dream, her mother opens her arms and they embrace.

Then, as she has every day for the past four years, she wakes up in her prison cell in Jessup, overwhelmed with remorse. The Hampstead woman remembers that as a 19-year-old heroin addict in 1999, she stabbed her mother to death. Never placing blame on anyone but herself, she pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.

Yesterday, her family showed that they have overcome their hurt and anger as they rallied around her in an emotional outpouring of support. They asked a Carroll County judge to give the woman a reduced sentence and a chance to enter a psychiatric and drug treatment program.

"I have forgiven her," said Lisa Kunert, Ziemski's sister. "Heroin had a lot to do with it. When she's on heroin and not, she's like two different people."

Kunert choked back a sob as she added, "She's back to my sister. But she has the weight of her guilt. ... She needs help."

After hearing from Ziemski's sister, aunt, father and attorney, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. listened to the anguished statement offered by Ziemski.

"I miss my mom," said Ziemski, 24, who spent most of the hour-and-a-half hearing wracked with silent sobs. "There are no words to express how sorry I am. If I could take it back, I would."

Burns said he will make a written decision in the case, but he did not say when.

Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore restated the prosecution's written opposition to Ziemski's request, pointing out the brutality of the killing March 28, 1999, at the victim's townhouse in the 1400 block of Popes Creek Drive in Hampstead.

The state medical examiner's report showed that Doris A. Ziemski, 52, died of 13 stab wounds from a butcher knife and a bayonet.

Gilmore said one detail of the killing always stood out in her mind.

"While this horrific crime was happening, Doris tried to escape but Kristi pulled her back in," Gilmore said.

Gilmore said the life sentence could be a deterrent to other young people who use heroin and other drugs.

"This is what could happen," she said. "You could spend the rest of your life in jail."

Ziemski's attorney, Howard County public defender Janette E. DeBoissiere, said her client covered her mother's body with a blanket but left her in the house. Kristi Ziemski then used her mother's car and credit cards to buy clothing and meals for her friends for about a week, DeBoissiere said.

Against the protest of her client, DeBoissiere said, she elected to reveal at the hearing Doris Ziemski's mental history so the judge could weigh that factor in his decision.

Doris Ziemski "believed that the devil had taken hold of Kristi," DeBoissiere said. "She would replace her need for drugs with Christ. She believed she would exorcise drugs from her system."

DeBoissiere said the Patuxent Institution's Youth Program restricts eligibility to youthful offenders who are serving less than 40 years in prison. The attorney asked Burns to reduce Ziemski's sentence to 25 years, which she said is a fair amount of time to serve.

"I hope you can see that Kristi is someone we shouldn't give up on," DeBoissiere said. "There is some reason she survived, though at times Kristi regrets that she didn't take her own life instead."

DeBoissiere called on family members, who pleaded with the court to allow Kristi Ziemski to seek help for the guilt that they said could lead to suicide, which she has attempted.

"Between the ages of 14 and 19, she was a monster to her family and herself," said Leon John Ziemski Jr. of Finksburg, Kristi Ziemski's father and Doris Ziemski's ex-husband. "The drugs destroyed her. Ironically, it's at Jessup where she's become a normal girl. She now sees what drugs have done to her and her family. The remorse is very true."

It was Leon Ziemski who in April 1999 asked police to check on his ex-wife, whom he hadn't heard from in about a week. Twelve hours after police discovered the victim, they found Kristi Ziemski at a motel in eastern Baltimore County with her mother's car. In charging documents, police said the daughter admitted repeatedly stabbing her mother.

Doris Ziemski's sister, Helen Anderson, said she couldn't even bear hearing her niece's name until she started having her own recurring dream.

"Doris comes to me and asks me to forgive Kristi," she said. "I know my sister would want Kristi to go on and have hope in her life."

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