Murder Suspect Offers Guilty Plea To Avoid Death Penalty

Anderson's Attorneys Say Capital Trial Is 'Irresponsible'

October 24, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Lawyers for accused murderer Steven Gregory Anderson yesterday termed county prosecutors "irresponsible" for seeking the death penalty for a man they say will likely die of AIDS before he can be executed and who has agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

" . . . In this time of unprecedented fiscal crisis, the financial burden of opting for capital proceedings in this caseis irresponsible and an act itself contrary to the state's welfare,"assistant public defenders representing Anderson wrote in documents filed yesterday in county Circuit Court.

The documents revealed that Anderson has offered to plead guilty to all charges, including first-degree murder, to avoid the gas chamber.

Anderson, 31, is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 4 in the September 1990 rape and slaying of Gwyn Dixon Criswell, a 41-year-old mother of two from Crofton who went grocery shopping on a Sunday morning and was never again seen alive. Her body was found the following day hidden in the woods behind the Crofton library. Police said she had been strangled to death.

Anderson had been paroled three months earlier after serving five years on a burglary conviction.

Attorneys Robert H. Waldman and Gary W. Christopher say they have evidence showing Anderson, whom they say was infected with the HIV virus at least three years ago, will likely die a "horrible death" within six to nineyears -- before appeals in the case would be exhausted. For Andersonto be submitted to the death penalty process "unnecessarily and wantonly, at the state's whim" is unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, the lawyers wrote.

County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee refused to confirm the plea offer, but hedefended his decision to seek the death penalty. He said he weighed the defendant's criminal record, aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime and support for the idea within the victim's family.

"Nothing has changed," Weathersbee said yesterday. "At that point in time when we made the decision, it (the death penalty process) was costly. It's still costly. That's not my fault."

Weathersbee could not estimate the financial effects of deciding to seek the death penalty in a case. He said an attorney will likely be tied up handling morepretrial motions than in a normal case and the case is more likely to be ordered retried by an appeals court, but he said the cost is "nothing tremendously greater" than in any other murder trial.

In court records, Anderson's lawyers say the public defender's office will likely spend $75,000 to defend him at trial, and as much as 10 times that with appeals.

The developments in the Anderson case come two months after it was revealed that prosecutors in Howard County had rejected Eric Joseph Tirado's offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life without parole. After being convicted of murdering a state trooper, Tirado was spared the gas chamber by a jury that sentenced him to life without parole.

State Public Defender Stephen E. Harris said the Tirado trial cost Maryland hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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