Killer asks for lighter sentence Parole seeker cites 'Oz' in plea for hope

June 16, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

In a passionate and rambling half-hour plea for a shorter sentence, convicted murderer Abras Q. Morrison yesterday compared serving life at the Maryland Penitentiary without chance for parole to Dorothy wandering lost in the Land of Oz with only her dog Toto at her side.

"Without the people around her -- with only the dog, Toto -- she began to lose hope," the 21-year-old Baltimore County man told Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold. "You need the people around to keep the hope, to keep dreaming, to keep hoping someday -- like Dorothy -- that you can go home."

In October, Judge Arnold ruled that Morrison shouldn't ever go home again when he sentenced him for killing Margaret Cullen, a 74-year-old North Baltimore woman whose beaten, stabbed and decaying body was found two summers ago in a makeshift grave in a Hampstead cornfield.

Yesterday, Morrison maintained his innocence and vowed to make the most of his time in prison if he is given hope for parole someday.

"What I'm asking for, your honor, is just a chance, a chance," Morrison said. "I've got to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If the punishment is supposed to be a life for a life, then they should have taken my life. I shouldn't be sitting there wasting away."

Morrison's attorney, Carroll Public Defender Barbara Kreinar, told the judge she was simply seeking to have her client's sentence changed to life with the possibility of parole.

Even then, said a witness for the defendant, there are no guarantees Morrison would be released from prison.

"If a lifer is not paroled, he serves until the day he dies," said Paul Davis, chairman of the state parole commission.

Mr. Davis testified that out of 1,500 people serving life sentences in Maryland, only 80 are on parole. And the lifers now on parole served an average of 20.6 years before being released, he said.

"If the purpose of sentencing is retribution, then life without parole is appropriate," Ms. Kreinar said. "But I think our society is more than a society of retribution."

State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said Morrison deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. Morrison "is obviously a very bright man. . . . He used that intelligence to commit an incredibly cold murder."

Mrs. Cullen's body was found in a field off Route 30 on Aug. 25, 1991 by Baltimore homicide detectives.

Morrison, who Mrs. Cullen hired as a nurse's aide that summer, was convicted by a Carroll jury Aug. 26 of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, kidnapping, robbery and three conspiracy counts.

Morrison told police after his arrest that he and Troy D. Shellington -- who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in September -- never wanted to kill the woman.

He told police, and testified at his trial, that Mrs. Cullen "ran into" the knife that ultimately killed her.

Judge Arnold will rule on Morrison's request at a hearing July 27.

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