Burns apologizes to Sowers' widow

Jessamy's aide says journalist distorted remarks on injuries

June 18, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

The spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office has apologized by phone and by e-mail to the widow of a robbery victim whom she had criticized in an online publication, but she maintained that her comments were "vastly misrepresented" by the freelance journalist who wrote the piece.

In a May 28 article in Exhibit A, which is about legal issues, Margaret T. Burns questioned whether the injuries Zachary Sowers sustained in June last year near his Patterson Park home were the result of a "vicious beating" and said that he looked like a "sleeping baby" at the hospital. Sowers died in March.

Sowers' widow, Anna Sowers, has called for a public apology from Burns and her boss, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

"I basically told her that I appreciated her calling and apologizing, but I still wanted her to make a public apology and retraction," Anna Sowers said yesterday. "She's away at a conference, and so I told her she can basically take this time and decide whether to come out publicly. ... She didn't commit to it."

Burns did not return a voice mail message late yesterday, but she has previously said the matter was a private one between herself and Sowers.

Jessamy has not responded to requests for an interview made by The Sun via an e-mail, a visit to her office and three phone messages - one at her home and two to her office.

"I believe we must live together in community and seek forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation of those we offend, and we must do this privately and not in any way that may appear insincere," Burns wrote in the e-mail Monday, which a friend of Sowers sent to The Sun and which was posted on Sowers' Internet page yesterday evening. "That is why I have not wanted to respond publicly to the many media inquiries, until I had an opportunity to let you know personally how sorry I am for all of this distraction and pain."

Sowers' attacker, Trayvon Ramos, received a 40-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to robbery and attempted first-degree murder. Three co-defendants pleaded guilty to robbery and were sentenced to eight years in prison. If any of the defendants violate their probations, a judge could impose much longer sentences, including a life sentence for Ramos.

Burns also wrote that she could not "recall speaking in the tone or description that was used in the article" by Melody Simmons, a veteran journalist and former Sun reporter. Simmons, a freelancer for public radio and The New York Times, has said repeatedly that she stands by her reporting.

"I understand that Zach was not a 'sleeping baby when he arrived at the hospital,' " Burns wrote, referring to a quote Simmons used.

Burns was quoted in Simmons' article as saying: "The injuries were not consistent with this horrible pummeling. ... We know he was kicked, he fell and hit his head, he fell between two cars. He probably injured something in the fall or he had a pre-existing condition. There was no evidence of the vicious beating, no evidence of stomping."

She also questioned whether Anna Sowers' statements were "100 [percent] accurate."

According to medical records and photos in Sowers' assailant's court file, the 28-year-old victim had 19 different "diagnoses/problems" from head trauma to hemorrhages, bruises to brain tissue, respiratory failure and excess water build-up in his brain. Photos entered into evidence by prosecutors also show Sowers bleeding from the right side of his head, in a neck brace, wrapped in bandages and with multiple tubes coming from his mouth.

The patient "sustained an isolated traumatic brain injury and had a complicated hospital course," one report reads.

Sowers said she wants a public apology because Burns' statements have undermined her efforts to lobby for changes in state law that would help crime victims.

"For her to say that I'm not saying things that are 100 percent accurate, that makes it harder for me to work with delegates and get laws changed," Sowers said.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

ONLINE

Read the e-mail from Burns to Sowers at baltimoresun. com/sowers

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