Stephanie L. Royster, 45, city prosecutor, circuit judge

April 26, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Judge Stephanie L. Royster, a top criminal prosecutor in the Baltimore state's attorney's office who was appointed to the city Circuit Court in November, died of cancer Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The West Baltimore resident was 45.

She had been chief of staff for the state's attorney's office, supervising more than 400 employees, when she was named to the bench. She had formerly been senior prosecutor in the homicide division.

"She had a presence in the courtroom and a sensitivity that jurors trusted," State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said yesterday. "She was a wonderfully gracious person who possessed determination and character. She was a relentless prosecutor and was dramatic in the courtroom."

"She knew the law, argued it well and never budged an inch," said one of her most recent colleagues, Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis. "She was tenacious and was an excellent judge and decent human being."

Born in Danville, Va., and raised in Baltimore's Butchers Hill, she was a 1978 graduate of Western High School and earned her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Loyola College. She also was a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law.

To help pay for her schooling, she worked as a network television ad-rate negotiator for the W.B. Doner & Co. agency. After being admitted to the Maryland bar in 1990, she became an assistant state's attorney and rose to senior prosecutor in the homicide division.

Recalling Judge Royster's work habits, Mrs. Jessamy said that she "put nothing on hold" and was "one of the most dedicated persons I've ever met." She often worked late into the night and would be sending e-mails at 3 a.m.

In her 15 years with the office, Judge Royster also had been deputy state's attorney for investigations and its liaison with the city Police Department's command staff.

"Stephanie was very meticulous in her preparation of homicide cases," said Cynthia H. Jones, who later succeeded her as deputy state's attorney for investigations. "She left no stone unturned. She often talked to the paramedics who got to a crime scene first and who saw and heard things. She would talk to the young men in the community."

Colleagues said she mastered the science of DNA, gunshot residue and fingerprints.

"She wanted to communicate well with the lay jurors on these complex scientific issues," said Ms. Jones. "And jurors appreciated she was a Baltimorean who was sensitive to the issues in the criminal justice system and to their community."

Judge Royster also had been a member of the city's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and its drug treatment subcommittee.

After being named a judge last year, she was assigned to the court's family section and handled domestic issues, including cases involving child support and custody.

"She had a good temperament and patience," said Administrative Judge Marcella Holland. "Sometimes you just have to be able to let the people vent, and she had that ability."

She had been a member of the Maryland and Monumental City bar associations and the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys. She was a former member of the Baltimore City Child Abuse Board.

A member of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, she attended weekly Bible classes. As a child, she learned to swim with the Campfire Girls and later taught swimming to children.

Funeral plans were incomplete yesterday.

Survivors include her mother, Arcelia Royster of Baltimore; a brother, Dennis Royster of Philadelphia; and two sisters, Rita Royster and Valerie Royster Briscoe, both of Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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