Baltimore Co. woman granted new trial in husband's slaying is freed on bond

April 09, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Joyce Danna rose to her feet, her ankles shackled by leg irons, and cried tears of joy yesterday when Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger ordered her release from prison on $25,000 bond.

After 14 years in the Maryland prison system, freedom -- at least temporary freedom -- was just over the horizon for Mrs. Danna, 42, whose 1978 conviction in her husband's murder was overturned Friday. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted her a new trial. She had been serving a life sentence.

Mrs. Danna and her lawyer, Rachel A. Wohl, embraced in court yesterday. "She said, 'Justice finally does happen,' " according to the lawyer. Friends and family applauded from their seats in the gallery.

Mrs. Danna was taken to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where she will be processed before release later this week.

Prosecutors said they had not decided whether to retry her or appeal the case to the state's highest tribunal, the Court of Appeals.

Ms. Wohl sought yesterday's hearing in Towson after the Court of Special Appeals ruled that a judge improperly instructed jurors during Mrs. Danna's 1978 trial for the Dec. 11, 1977, fatal shooting of her husband, Louis J. Danna, 30, a Baltimore police officer. Mrs. Danna said the death was an accident.

The lawyer told Judge Bollinger yesterday that Mrs. Danna was a very religious woman who has been an exemplary prisoner during her 14-year prison stay, was the second woman prisoner in Maryland to earn a bachelor's degree, and assisted blind prisoners as well as battered women at the jail.

Carol Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, told the judge Mrs. Danna helped develop a program that prompted Gov. William Donald Schaefer to commute the sentences of former battered women who killed or assaulted their spouses.

Not everyone was happy about the judge's ruling yesterday. Kimberly M. Danna, 24, Mrs. Danna's stepdaughter, said she was angry.

"It makes me sick," Kimberly Danna said. "After 14 years, she's going to be let go and not even convicted of the crime."

She described her father as a gentle man who remained reliable after he and her mother divorced.

Ms. Wohl hoped prosecutors would drop the case but said her client would have a better defense if it went forward. A key witness was not called to testify in 1978 although she was available, the lawyer said, and Mrs. Danna would be able to use the year-old battered spouse defense.

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