Woodson guilty, escapes death penalty BALTIMORE CITY

January 30, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Shawn M. Woodson, whose conviction and death sentence in the 1989 shooting death of a Baltimore police officer were overturned on appeal, escaped a second brush with the gas chamber yesterday.

A jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and two handgun charges yesterday, electing not to convict him on a first-degree count. The verdict ended his second trial in the Oct. 10, 1989, slaying of Officer William J. Martin.

City Circuit Judge John C. Themelis immediately sentenced Woodson to 53 years. The judge ordered that sentence to be served consecutively to a 50-year term Woodson is serving in the wounding of another police officer moments after Officer Martin was shot, bringing the total sentence to 103 years.

After four days of testimony, the jury began considering the 23-year-old defendant's fate Thursday afternoon. The jurors deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours that day and returned for another hour yesterday before reaching their verdict.

Woodson, wearing a jacket and tie, stood straight and looked directly at the jury as the verdict was announced. Tears welled in the eyes of some members of Officer Martin's family. One woman's jaw literally dropped when the decision was announced. Minutes later, Woodson's mother and sister embraced. The sister wept with joy that her brother's life had been spared.

Jurors interviewed afterward said they began their deliberations split down the middle on whether Woodson had been proven guilty of ambushing and murdering Officer Martin in an apartment building in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Ave.

As the deliberations continued, the jurors agreed that Woodson was the killer, but they remained unconvinced that the slaying was premeditated, a requirement for a guilty finding on first-degree murder.

"We thought he just reacted and tried to get out of the building," said juror Kirk Simmons.

During closing arguments, prosecutors said Officer Martin, 37, was killed while responding to a 3 a.m. report that men were using drugs in the vestibule of the apartment building. The prosecutors said Woodson apparently shot the officer with a .38-caliber handgun.

Testimony showed Woodson fled the building with the handgun and confronted another police officer, leading to a second shootout.

"He decides to take a stand rather than take an arrest," Assistant State's Attorney Ara Crowe told the jury. Pointing to the defendant, the prosecutor added: "[Officer Martin] never saw these eyes. Why? Because he caught two in the back in the head. An ambush. Shot in the back, if you will."

Mr. Crowe told the jury the shooting was certainly premeditated and said it was a case of "first-degree or nothing at all."

Defense attorney Arnold M. Zerwitz argued that prosecutors had failed to prove Woodson fired the shots that killed Officer Martin. He said Taavon Hall, who was originally charged with Woodson in the murder but never stood trial, could have shot the officer before fleeing the building.

The defense lawyer suggested that Mr. Hall had the opportunity to wipe his hands on his clothes to remove detectable levels of gunshot residue. Mr. Zerwitz went on to argue that even if Woodson did fire the fatal shots, the act was not premeditated.

Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell had sentenced Woodson to die after Woodson was convicted of first-degree murder in 1990.

That verdict was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled the judge improperly allowed trial testimony from a man claiming to have shared a jail cell with Woodson.

Prosecutors responded by trying Woodson a second time, again seeking the death penalty.

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