Selection of jury to begin in last Sizzler killing trial BALTIMORE COUNTY

August 04, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

With his three alleged accomplices convicted last month and awaiting sentence, the man accused of killing a Cockeysville restaurant employee during a Christmastime holdup goes on trial for his life today in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Jury selection is to begin this morning before Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Robert Lee Berry, 26, of the 3100 block of Sequoia Ave., because they believe he shot and killed John D. Tillman.

Witnesses have said Tillman, 29, was shot in the face when he did not immediately identify the manager of the Sizzler Restaurant, in the 10000 block of York Road, during the Dec. 26 robbery.

Yesterday, Judge Murphy agreed to a defense request that he impose sentence if Mr. Berry is convicted, rather than for the defendant to choose between judge and jury afterward. This way, prospective jurors need not be asked their views on capital punishment during jury selection.

However, Judge Murphy said Mr. Berry may change his mind up to the time selection begins.

As jury selection begins in the Berry case, the same process continues in another courtroom as Towson is the scene of simultaneous capital trials. The other jury is to hear the case against Rodney Eugene Solomon, 27, of Washington, charged with the carjacking murder of Pam Basu last Sept. 8. The trial was transferred from Howard County.

In the Sizzler robbery, four masked men -- two armed -- burst into the restaurant about 8:30 p.m. and held up more than 30 diners and employees.

Tillman was led from the kitchen and ordered to point out the restaurant's manager. He was shot when he did not comply instantly, according to witnesses.

Tillman was on work-release from a murder and robbery conviction when he was 14 years old and had expected parole last March.

Eventually, police arrested four men and charged them with the robbery and Tillman's murder. Three were convicted last month and are to be sentenced in September.

Two 22-year-old cousins pleaded guilty July 19 to the murder and to armed robbery and handgun charges, though they insisted they didn't commit the crimes.

Aaron Delano Evans, of the 1500 block of Lochwood Road, and Wayne Alphonso Brooks, of the 3700 block of West Coldspring Lane, said they preferred to plea bargain rather than risk going to trial.

Judge Barbara Kerr Howe accepted their guilty pleas to first-degree murder, armed robbery and use of a handgun in a crime of violence. She agreed to sentence them to serve no more than 25 years of a possible life sentence.

In return for the guilty pleas by Brooks and Evans, Prosecutor Jason G. League withdrew his request for life without parole and dropped charges in the robberies of patrons.

On July 15, a jury convicted William Francis Tyler, 45, the lookout, of the murder and robbery. The jury found Tyler innocent of using a handgun in a violent crime but convicted him of murder because a restaurant employee was killed during the robbery. Tyler, of the 3800 block of Belle Ave., faces a life sentence.

When Mr. League presented a statement of evidence to support the guilty pleas in the Brooks and Evans cases, he quoted Mr. Berry as telling police: "We all had the jitters. I didn't mean to kill him." The prosecutor also quoted Mr. Berry as saying he put the gun in Tillman's face to scare him, "so he could see it. It just went off."

Mr. Berry is represented by two assistant public defenders, Joseph Niland, from Prince George's County, and Kirk Osborne, from Baltimore.

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