Move to oust Jessamy aide persists

Victim's widow holds rally at courthouse

July 25, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

About 60 people called for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to fire her spokeswoman in a protest yesterday outside Baltimore Circuit Court.

The noon rally on Calvert Street was led by Anna Sowers, 28, the widow of robbery victim Zach Sowers, who died from the attack this year after spending 10 months in a coma.

In May, Jessamy's spokeswoman downplayed the severity of Sowers' injuries in an interview with a reporter for a legal publication, saying at one point that Sowers looked like a "sleeping baby" at the hospital. Since then, Anna Sowers and a group of supporters have waged an aggressive public campaign, first to get a public apology from Burns and, when that was not forthcoming, for her firing.

During the rally yesterday, Sowers said that after making publicly "erroneous" statements, Burns should "publicly apologize and retract" them. Burns' silence, Sowers said, has "hurt my credibility" as she lobbies for changes in state law and raises funds for brain trauma research.

Burns was out of town yesterday and was unavailable for comment. When Sowers first objected to her comments, Burns said that the reporter, Melody Simmons, "misrepresented" her statements. Since then, she has declined to comment, saying the matter was a private one between her and Sowers.

Immediately after the rally yesterday, Jessamy issued her first comments about the controversy.

"I have learned over the past several months anything I, or individuals in my office, say or do in reference to the Zach Sowers case will in all probability be misstated, misquoted, misrepresented, misinterpreted and/or misunderstood," Jessamy said in a statement. "Knowing this, I therefore decline to make any statement regarding past, current or future events related to this case."

Sowers said the idea for yesterday's rally and another Sunday at a downtown farmers' market came a few weeks ago during a conversation with friends at a bar about how they could keep the issue "in the news."

Sowers, who used to work in the marketing department at Johns Hopkins Medicine, has several friends with expertise in media and public relations and has recruited others to help her.

Adam Meister, a blogger for the Examiner newspaper, has been at the forefront of the effort. He helped plan and publicize the rallies and has been pressuring local politicians to take a side on the issue of Burns' termination.

"I wanted to get the word out," Meister said. "It doesn't happen very often in Baltimore, people taking to the streets."

Sowers has also gotten help from Ramsey Flynn, a former news editor at the Maryland Daily Record. Flynn said that he has advised Sowers to call for a retraction because Burns' comments "undid her foundation" as an advocate.

Flynn said that a key part of the strategy in raising pressure on Jessamy's office has been to enlist community activists and organizations, including city councilmen, Meister, the NAACP and Steve Fogelman, Jessamy's opponent in the 2006 election.

Sowers "has been shy about soliciting extra support until recently," Flynn said.

But now, he said, she has been more active in seeking help.

"If their interests don't conflict with what we want to communicate, we're happy to talk to anyone," he said.

But some say their efforts are misguided.

Margaret Mead, a Baltimore defense attorney who walked by the rally yesterday, said that she has "great empathy" for Sowers but that Burns was just doing her job, explaining to the public why prosecutors agreed to the terms of the plea deal for Zach's attacker, Trayvon Ramos.

Ramos received a 40-year prison sentence to be followed by five years' probation after pleading guilty to robbery and attempted first-degree murder. If Ramos, now 17, violates his probation, he could go to prison for life.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, Marty Burns does a good job," Mead said. "Calling for her ouster is pretty extreme, and I don't think it's right."

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