Primary Preview: Heiser, McDermott Eye State’s Attorney Position; Primary To Decide Worcester’s Next Top Prosecutor

Primary Preview: Heiser, McDermott Eye State’s Attorney Position; Primary To Decide Worcester’s Next Top Prosecutor
The winner of the Republican primary election between Kris Heiser and Bill McDermott will become the next Worcester County State's Attorney by virtue of no Democrat seeking the post.

BERLIN – Interim State’s Attorney Bill McDermott wants to remove the temporary title next week, while Wicomico prosecutor Kris Heiser hopes to return to her home county and become its top law enforcement professional.

Republicans McDermott and Heiser will square off in the Republican primary election next Tuesday after months of campaigning.

McDermott was named interim state’s attorney in January after working for former State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, who was named associate judge of the Worcester County Circuit Court, for seven years as his chief deputy. Less than one month before gaining the interim title, McDermott filed to seek the state’s attorney post.

Heiser, a former Worcester prosecutor for three years who now serves in the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office, filed for state’s attorney last October. In Wicomico, where she has worked since 2011, in addition to prosecuting cases in court, she handles hiring and training of prosecutors in the District Court division.

The Dispatch presented three questions to the Republican candidates earlier this month. The following represents a transcript of their responses to the questions.

Why should Worcester County residents vote for you for State’s Attorney? Please give at least three specific reasons.

Heiser: I have a passion for seeking justice, over a decade of experience as a prosecutor and the good judgment required to ensure equal treatment for all citizens.

Growing up in a family of law enforcement and now married to a police officer, I have a deep understanding of how to work effectively with police to secure convictions. At this point, I have worked under five different state’s attorneys. I have prosecuted cases in every county on the lower eastern shore and I am frequently appointed by judges as a special prosecutor. I have extensive supervisory experience hiring and developing talented teams of prosecutors and support staff and managing their training and workload. Because they know I am tough but fair, I have the unprecedented combined support of both Worcester County law enforcement and the criminal defense bar.

I am endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason, Maryland Eastern Shore Troopers, three out of the last four Worcester County State’s Attorneys and many more. I believe our state’s attorney should be proactive, accessible and transparent; so that working together with our police and citizens, we can keep our communities safe and hold offenders accountable.

McDermott: In no other contested race this year does one person’s vote have the power to impact as many lives in Worcester County as does the choice for who should be state’s attorney. Having started at the very bottom in this office, and having worked my way all the way to the top, no other candidate is as uniquely qualified to be the state’s attorney as I am.

In choosing the next state’s attorney, I believe experience, verified results and trusted leadership are among the most important qualities.

While many candidates may say they have experience, the race for state’s attorney can be fact checked by reviewing the Maryland judiciary’s website case search. For years, I’ve been prosecuting the most notorious and serious cases in Worcester County. This publication along with many others have written countless articles about the murderers, drug dealers, sexual offenders and thieves I’ve personally prosecuted. Perhaps what I’m most proud of is that those prosecutions have been met with great success – and those successful results have been public for years and can be easily verified.

As the interim state’s attorney, my leadership has been trusted and endorsed overwhelmingly by law enforcement, victims and other prosecutors.

What is one case you have prosecuted in your career that above all confirms your abilities as a capable prosecutor to lead Worcester County over the next four years?

Heiser: Careers and reputations are not built on the prosecution of a single case; they are built by prosecuting thousands of cases, by treating each with care and respect and by seeking justice every time. As a prosecutor for over a decade, I have successfully prosecuted thousands of criminal cases, and I firmly believe that every case is important and every victim matters.

It would be disingenuous for any prosecutor to select one case to parade in front of the public as proof that he or she has the skills necessary to be the State’s Attorney – as any experienced attorney knows, the position requires much more than simple trial skills. I will never publicize the pain of any victims or their families for political gain. Furthermore, I will not disrespect the thousands of victims I have worked to help by telling them that another case was more important or noteworthy than theirs.

Instead, I ask voters to consider the reputation I have built during my decade of service, my track record of fairness, ethics, and good judgment, and the overwhelming support of the law enforcement and legal communities to confirm my abilities as the prosecutor capable of leading Worcester County.

McDermott: William Niblett was an elderly man who was beloved by his family, friends and neighbors in Pocomoke. However, in March of 2008, his daughters and 8-year-old grandson arrived at his home to find that someone had cut the phone lines, broken into the house, savagely beat him, robbed him of what little money he had in the home and brutally killed him by sticking a steak knife into his heart.

Ultimately, law enforcement would arrest a man by the name of Charlie Phillips. Mr. Phillips confessed to the crime and he was eventually found guilty due to the confession. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Sadly, the appellate court would later throw out his confession and order a new trial. In 2013, I was responsible for prosecuting Mr. Phillips for a second time, except without his confession.

Not only were we successful in persuading a jury to find him guilty of first degree murder, we sought to increase his sentence from the original one, something that rarely, if ever happens. However, after a protected sentencing hearing, he was finally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

If elected, what would be your first orders of business? What specifically would you look to change or address in the first few months of your term?

Heiser: My first order of business will be to organize teams of proactive community prosecutors, so that the State’s Attorney’s Office increases visibility and involvement in Worcester County communities. Prosecutors will work proactively with concerned citizens, neighborhood watch groups and charitable organizations to discuss community concerns and find solutions to crime problems together. This will also foster a better understanding of our mission, make our decisions more transparent and keep us personally accountable to the people we serve.

I will also assign a prosecutor to every law enforcement agency in Worcester County and that prosecutor will be available at all times to provide legal advice, assistance and consultation. This collaboration will ensure that every case is handled in the best way possible from the start of the investigation through to the prosecution in court. Once prosecutors are engaged with citizens and law enforcement, we will have a strong team in place to begin attacking the serious problems facing our county, including the opioid crisis and crimes against vulnerable victims. We must use a multi-disciplinary approach to make sure that addicts are in treatment, dealers are incarcerated, and those who prey on the weakest among us are held accountable.

McDermott: Having been appointed as the interim state’s attorney back in January of this year, I have already made a few changes to the office. This is an office that has seen a 22% decrease in crime overall. We have been first in the state for DUI convictions for four out of the last five years, and Ocean Pines is now ranked the safest city in all of Maryland. There’s little that needs to change when everything has been working so well.

However, my biggest change was to appoint a new deputy state’s attorney. I chose Diane Karsnitz, a 10-year veteran of this office who has demonstrated herself to be one of the most tenacious, formidable and fiercest prosecutors I’ve ever met. She is married to an Ocean City police detective and knows firsthand the importance of our strong bonds with law enforcement. She is a member of the Child Advocacy Center and has earned a reputation as one the most successful sexual predator prosecutors in all of Maryland. With me as state’s attorney and her in the deputy position, children will continue to be protected, crime will continue to decrease and our law enforcement will enjoy a strong partnership.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.