Survivors of murder victims urge faster death penalty process in Md. STATE HOUSE REPORT

January 27, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Seeking a measure of revenge, the husbands, wives, friends and neighbors of recent Maryland murder victims beseeched the governor and top General Assembly leaders yesterday to speed up Maryland's death penalty process.

They brought along the stories of their personal, horror-filled tragedies, but demonstrated a shared conviction that something seriously wrong with Maryland's criminal justice system -- and particularly with the state's capital punishment statute.

They complained that public defenders, whose jobs they said were financed by law-abiding taxpayers, too often are successful in delaying and even reversing capital punishment cases.

"If it happened to your family, what would you want to see happen?" said Michael Langmead, whose wife, Dorothy, was one of two women killed during the robbery of a Randallstown bank on Oct. 27. "The laws would be different if it were your wife or daughter."

Theodore Criswell, a Crofton man whose wife, Gwyn, was abducted, raped, beaten and strangled by a man he bitterly described yesterday as "an animal," said, "If that's not a crime that deserves the death sentence, what does?" Her murderer was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.

The group left copies of petitions with the signatures of more than 30,000 Marylanders seeking a more "expeditious application of the death penalty."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, listened attentively, saying afterward that they understood the frustration of the families and friends of murder victims.

All three agreed something must be done to speed the appeals '' process.

"It is inexcusable that two-score people have been sentenced to the death penalty, and not one person has been executed," Mr. Miller said, speaking to a group that included Virginia Wolf, the wife of murdered state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf. Corporal Wolf's assailant also was sentenced to life without parole.

"By not implementing the death penalty, we are telling people, 'Go ahead and do it again,' " complained Franca Paplauckas, a neighbor of Pam Basu, the Howard County woman who was dragged to her death in a carjacking last September.

Mr. Schaefer, however, said some people believe the death penalty is wrong, considering it "inhumane, outmoded and too costly." He suggested the General Assembly as a whole may not agree to speed up the appeals process.

The governor also said some of the delays are caused by appeals through the federal court system, over which he has no control.

He also noted that people accused of crimes have a constitutional right to legal representation, and cautioned the murder victims' friends and relatives not "to leave thinking I'm going to be against the public defender."

No one has been executed in Maryland's gas chamber since 1961. After being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state's death penalty law was revised and reinstated in 1978.

Since then, judges or juries have handed down 57 death sentences to 38 different people, but appeals have lasted for years and convictions and sentences alike have often been reversed.

Thirteen men are currently on death row, their cases in various stages of appeal.

While sympathetic to the call for speedier executions, Mr. Schaefer said executing convicted murderers deals with only one part of the crime problem.

He urged support of his bill to ban assault pistols and other efforts to control gun sales.

The governor also said programs he is pushing this year to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to keep children in school are all efforts that could lead to a safer society.

"But no one wants to hear about that because that's going to cost money," Mr. Schaefer said.

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