The Howard County jury that convicted Walter Thomas Harding of murder must now decide if he should be put to death.
At the start of the trial's sentencing phase on Monday, Harding's family pleaded with the jury to spare his life. The jury can sentence him to death, to life in prison without parole or life with a chance of parole.
Harding, 29, was found guilty last week of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his girlfriend, 21-year-old Carmini S. Jackson, and her boyfriend, 21-year-old Andre Mann, on June 29, 1989.
Harding's family told the jury of an introverted, lonely boy from an alcoholic, abusive household who became a loving father to the daughter he had with Jackson.
"He has a big heart, he cares too much about people," said Harding's sister, Denise Fairley.
"He loved Shawni, (Jackson's nickname), he loved that baby. He didn't mean to hurt her," Fairley said.
Delphine Barsdale, a neighbor of the Hardings for 20 years, also told the jury of Harding's love for his child. "If you could have seen him with his baby, you would know he was not amean person," Barsdale said.
Fairley and her brother, Emerson Harding, testified that Walter, the eldest of the three children, shielded his two younger siblings from their parents' constant fights and adopted a protective role toward them.
"He gave me a sense of security," said Emerson Harding. "I knew I could depend on him."
Trembling and dabbing her face with a handkerchief, Harding's mother, HildaHarding, said she would often turn to Walter for comfort during her marriage to Thomas Harding, who died in June.
If the jury sentenced her son to death, Hilda Harding said, "I would think about taking my own life, 'cause I couldn't deal with it."
Harding listened to his mother's testimony with his head down on the defense table.
Theportrayal of Walter Harding by his family contrasted sharply with assistant state attorney Gary Weissner's description of a man who killed the mother of his child and her boyfriend in cold blood.
Hardingshot Mann in the parking lot of the Guilford Gardens apartment complex before turning the gun on Jackson, Weissner said.
In addition to testimony by Harding's family, the jury will consider three victim-impact statements when they begin deliberations today. The statementswere submitted by the mothers of the two victims and the mother of Andre Mann's children.