Although nobody expects it to happen, the state of Maryland is quietly preparing to execute convicted murderer Anthony Grandison next week.
In what amounts to a high-stakes legal bluff, an Eastern Shore judge set next week as the period of execution for Grandison.
Grandison faces two death sentences for contracting the 1983 Warren House motel murder of Scott Piechowicz -- who was scheduled with his wife, Cheryl, to testify against Grandison in a federal drug trial -- and Susan Kennedy, Cheryl's sister who was mistakenly slain while substituting for her at the motel in Pikesville. Grandison is also serving two life terms for federal charges of witness tampering and violating the civil rights of a witness.
Officials at the Maryland Penitentiary have begun preparing the gas chamber for possible use. They have checked the actual gassing mechanism, gathered a list of potential witnesses and even tested the phone outside the gas chamber to make sure it would work in the event of a last-minute reprieve, according to prison system spokesman Gregory Shipley.
It is the closest the state has come to an execution since 1961, when Nathaniel Lipscomb was put to death, the last execution in the state, Shipley said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972 because of the arbitrary way it was being imposed, then sanctioned it again in 1976 under new principles of fairness. Maryland passed a new death penalty statute several years later but has yet to implement it.
The gas chamber will remain unused for a while, lawyers on both sides of Grandison's case predicted yesterday.
Jerome E. Deise Jr., chief of the state public defender's capital punishment unit, said his office agreed yesterday to represent Grandison in his next round of appeals. Although there is no legal order now blocking Grandison's execution, Deise said, "We have already begun taking appropriate steps."
Deise said he expected Grandison's attorneys would gain a stay of execution from a judge today or tomorrow.
Somerset County Judge Lloyd L. Simpkins, who presided over Grandison's trial six years ago, signed Grandison's death warrant Sept. 11 at the request of prosecutors who wanted to force Grandison to continue filing the appeals to which the law entitles him.
Grandison until Tuesday was incarcerated in the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. Armed with the death warrant signed by Simpkins, state officials had Grandison brought to the so-called Supermax prison in Baltimore in preparation for a possible execution.
Grandison has proved to be a crafty adversary for state prosecutors since his sentencing in June 1984. After his initial round of appeals expired, Grandison, acting as his own lawyer, filed an appeal of his state convictions in federal court in 1987. Even though an appeal to the federal court system at that point was unorthodox, his case languished until last January, according to Richard Rosenblatt, the head of the attorney general's capital offense unit.
Still, Grandison has two solid grounds for filing an appeal of his death sentence, Rosenblatt acknowledged. A victim impact statement was introduced at his sentencing, something the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional. And, his sentencing jury used a complicated sentencing form that the court has since said was improper.
Defendants in similar situations have almost routinely won new sentencing hearings since those two Supreme Court decisions.
The problem for state prosecutors was that Grandison had not filed any appeals since he lost his last round in January. That forced the state to ask for the death warrant.
"It's a case strictly in how an inmate can jerk the system around," Rosenblatt said. "These moves are not intended to achieve justice but simply to delay and forestall the inevitable."