Supreme Court rejects appeal of death penalty for Gilliam

February 20, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned down yesterday the appeal of a Maryland death row inmate convicted of the shotgun murder of a Northeast Baltimore woman during a 1988 kidnapping and robbery that produced $3.

Tried without a jury at the age of 22, Tyrone Delano Gilliam Jr. of Rossville was convicted and sentenced to die by Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II for gunning down Christine Doerfler on the night of Dec. 2, 1988.

The justices' brief order denying review came in the second Maryland death row case to reach the highest court after prolonged delays that had resulted from two earlier rulings that forced Maryland to modify its death penalty procedures.

In the first such action, the justices rejected last June the appeal of Kenneth Lloyd Collins, 26, who was sentenced to die for the 1986 street killing of a bank vice president whom he had robbed of $80.

The justices' refusal to hear such a case gives state officials the authority to set a date for an execution. In Gilliam's case, as in Collins', however, the death row inmate has the option of seeking federal court review after losing in the first appeal.

Gilliam's conviction and death sentence were upheld at the state level last September by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Prosecutors at the 1989 trial said Gilliam had told companions, during a drinking and drug-using episode at a friend's apartment, that he was going to use his shotgun to kill a woman. They drove to Baltimore County and started looking for a woman, prosecutors said, and they abducted Ms. Doerfler as she was driving into a parking lot at an apartment complex where her sister lived.

Others who were at the scene testified at the trial that after driving Ms. Doerfler to the end of Gum Spring Road, Gilliam shot her, telling companions that he did so because she had seen his face. He had robbed her of $3.

In his appeal, Gilliam argued that Judge Fader improperly made key rulings on facts related to the death sentence issue before allowing the defense lawyer to make an argument and before allowing Gilliam to make a personal plea for mercy. Gilliam also contended he had not voluntarily forfeited the right to testify at his trial and at the sentencing hearing.

When the Supreme Court turns down appeals brought to it, it gives no explanation.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, who opposes the death penalty in every case, voted alone in favor of setting aside Gilliam's death sentence.

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