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Richard Fritz, Maryland Prosecutor Who Let Peyton Ham’s Killer Walk, Gets Booted Out Of Office

Long one of the most unelectable elected officials in America, Richard Fritz has at long last actually been unelected. 

Fritz, the state’s attorney for St. Mary’s County in Maryland since 1998 and by deed and reputation an all-around awful guy, got destroyed in Tuesday night’s Republican primary. With all but mail-in ballots counted, challenger Jaymi Sterling has just under 71 percent of the vote. Fritz, with about 29 percent, cannot mathematically make up the difference with only mail-ins and provisional ballots left to be counted. He’ll be out of office soon. 

Fritz got on Defector’s radar last year, when he failed to pursue justice in the killing of 16-year-old Peyton Ham by Maryland State Police officer Joseph Azzari. Three witnesses say Ham was on his knees in a gravel driveway when Azzari fired four shots into his neck and chest. Only Azzari says otherwise; he told fellow police Ham “charged” at him with a knife. The Maryland state medical examiner’s report indicates the four fatal bullets traveled “downward” through Ham’s body, which seems to support witness accounts that Ham was kneeling. Fritz’s office, however, ignored the witnesses and conducted no investigation of the killing. He instead relied solely on information from the state police themselves, who were so blatantly biased that Azzari is identified as the “victim” throughout their reports in the homicide case. In October 2021, six months after Ham’s death, Fritz announced that he would not file any charges against Azzari, ruling that the cop was “in reasonable fear for his life” when he killed the teen. Azzari got his gun and went back on the beat.

Fritz’s inaction in the Ham case was merely one stain on a breathtakingly awful record as a public official and human being. Here’s another: A federal judge compared Fritz and his friends in local law enforcement to the Ku Klux Klan when they got caught, on Election Day in 1998, rounding up all copies of a local newspaper that was going to out Fritz as a convicted rapist. And another: Fritz helped organize a raid on a county lawyer the day after that lawyer filed to get his name on the ballot and challenge Fritz in the 2010 race for state’s attorney. The opponent was charged with a reported 140 criminal counts of fraud and forgery, but the already bizarre case went completely to hell when Fritz’s office got caught withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, leading to the dismissal of all charges.

Yet St. Mary’s voters, plenty of whom were aware what a louse Fritz was, kept voting him into office and letting him do whatever he wanted for the last 24 years. But, no more. The beginning of the end of Fritz's reign came when Sterling, a former Fritz deputy who quit in the fall of 2020 after about 10 years of working for him and issued a resignation statement that painted the state’s attorney’s office as a den of iniquity, filed in March to run against her old boss in the Republican primary. It was reportedly the first time since his 1998 election that Fritz had a primary challenger.  

Fritz went out as he came in: doing dirty tricks and getting caught. Last week, the Duckpin, a news site devoted to Maryland matters, did an amazing story showing how Fritz’s office had altered social media posts from St. Mary’s County government accounts to wipe any positive statements he’d made about Sterling from the record:

An investigation by The Duckpin has shown that fourteen posts by the St. Mary’s State’s Attorney’s Office Facebook page were altered, some years after originally posted, to eliminate references or photographs of Sterling. This is the official page of the Office of the State’s Attorney, not any campaign page created by Fritz or his campaign.

The Duckpin

Fritz’s attempt at expunging information that could have hurt his chance to win an election reeks, but in a decidedly in-character and on-brand way. It's the same selfish, stupid mindset he exhibited during the 1998 campaign with his so-called Newspaper Caper while trying to keep voters from getting news of his record as a sexual predator. He won that time. This scam didn’t end so well for him. 

Fritz, perhaps because he’d gotten so used to winning through the years, also ran a hilariously bad campaign. Check out this completely nonsensical ad the Fritz campaign posted online in late April.

Despite the overwhelming one-sidedness of the vote count, Fritz had not publicly conceded defeat as of this story's publication.

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