Bel Air murderer fails to get review by Supreme Court

October 30, 1990|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A 20-year-old Maryland man serving two life prison terms for murdering his parents failed yesterday in an appeal to the Supreme Court -- the second legal setback for him in a week -- but his lawyers vowed to go on with other challenges.

Timothy Scott Sherman of Bel Air was 17 at the time he was accused in the shotgun slaying of his mother and stepfather three years ago in the Gibson Manor development.

Although his appeal to the Supreme Court drew the support of two of the nine justices, that was not enough: It takes the votes of four to grant review. His lawyers could seek to bolster future appeals by noting the two justices' interest in the issues. Justices Thurgood Marshall and Byron R. White voted to hear the case.

Despite the court's denial of review yesterday, Sherman may press forward with a plea for a new trial -- a maneuver he lost in the first round just last week in Baltimore County Circuit Court -- and he may renew his challenges in future federal court petitions. Stuart Jay Robinson, his Bel Air lawyer, said yesterday that all legal options will continue to be pursued.

Sherman's unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court brought to an end his initial attempt to overturn his 1988 conviction on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Elizabeth Ann Sherman, his mother, and Stevenson Thomas Sherman, his adoptive father. They were murdered in their beds the night of Oct. 11, 1987.

The appeal contended that Sherman's rights to a fair trial and to the full aid of his defense lawyer were violated when a member of the jury made an unauthorized visit, during the trial, to the scene of the crime.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied that challenge in May 1989, and the state Court of Appeals denied review a year ago.

Sherman's appeal contended that his conviction should be overturned outright because of the juror's alleged misconduct, without any proof that Sherman's defense was compromised. The Court of Special Appeals said prejudice to the defense had to be shown, and found that it had not been.

The setback in the Supreme Court came four days after Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz of Baltimore County turned down Sherman's post-trial complaint that the judge at his trial, Harford County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, had made an improper visit to the jury room while it was deliberating and had put pressure on the jurors.

Judge Whitfill, Sherman's lawyer complained, told the jurors that he did not want a "hung jury" -- that is, one that could not agree on a verdict -- because of the costs to the taxpayers of a second trial. That accusation was supported by three of the Sherman trial jurors, but it was denied by Judge Whitfill and by the jury foreman.

Circuit Judge Levitz, in his ruling Thursday, accepted the judge's version, saying: "This court is absolutely convinced that Judge Whitfill never communicated with the jury once deliberations began."

In addition, Judge Levitz said that he did not believe the testimony of the three jurors, and speculated that since those three had had "second thoughts" about convicting Sherman after the verdict was in, they may have sought to "be relieved from the responsibility for their verdict."

That decision will now be appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, attorney Robinson said.

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