When a county jury sentenced Melvin L. McMains to life without the possibility of parole last week, it was the third time in four months that a convicted murderer has been spared the death penalty in the county.
Anthony Lyons, McMains' public defender, said that the demographic make-up of county juries may play a role in their reluctance to impose death sentences.
"I would suspect that they're more liberal. Maybe they have a higher income level (and are) more educated," Lyons said. "The last alternative is to send somebody to death. Anything short of that that they can do, that's what they'd rather do."
On July 18, Eric Joseph Tirado was sentenced to life without parole for killing Maryland StatePolice Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf. Nine days later, Walter Thomas Harding, convicted of murdering his former girlfriend and her boyfriend, received the same sentence.
And after eight hours of deliberation Thursday night, a jury decided that McMains should spend the rest of hislife in pris
on for the Jan. 13 killings of his girlfriend, CariaRoth, 30, and her 7-year-old son, Christopher, in the family's NorthLaurel apartment.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell, who prosecuted the McMains case, said she's not sure how county jurors' incomes or education affect their verdicts. But she has observed that county juries are painstakingly thorough.
"The only generalimpression I have after 11 years of doing this is that they are veryconscientious in their deliberations," O'Donnell said.
Despite the jury's refusal to come back with a death sentence, O'Donnell said it is worthwhile for the state to pursue the death penalty in cases that meet the requirements.
"It's the third time they've come back with life without parole sentences," she said of county juries.
With two life sentences, McMains, 37, would have been eligible for parole consideration in 37 years.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, a psychiatrist testified that McMains was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis that led him to shoot Roth nine times and stab Christopher 42 times.
After taking PCP, or phencyclidine hydrochloride, McMains became convinced that Christopher was the Antichrist and must be killed.
"I only wish I could come close to describing what PCP did to me," McMains said in a prepared statement to the jury. "It's like the difference between reality and watching Bugs Bunny on television."
Urging the jury to choose a life sentence over death, thedefense argued that McMains would be a positive influence in jail and asked them to think of his 10-year-old daughter.
The state maintained that McMains should receive the most severe penalty the law allows.
"Death in this case is not vengeance," said Assistant State'sAttorney Joseph Murtha. "It is a maximum penalty and it is justice."