In a self-proclaimed fight for his innocence, Abras S. Q. "Sandy" Morrison asked a three-judge panel in Carroll County to remove the term "without parole" from his life sentence for first-degree murder.
"I'm not asking for you to open the door and let me out of prison," he told the panel yesterday. "It's not time for that. I'm just asking for a chance to go on with my schooling to better myself and the other inmates."
The panel consisted of Carroll County District Judge Joann Ellinghaus-Jones and Circuit Judges Raymond E. Beck Sr. and Luke K. Burns Jr.
The judges are expected to issue a written decision on Morrison's sentence-reduction request within 30 days, said Assistant State's Attorney Edward Ulsch.
Morrison, 21, was convicted in August 1992 in the 1991 slaying of 74-year-old Margaret Cullen in a Hampstead cornfield after he and Troy D. Shellington kidnapped her from her North Baltimore home.
Mrs. Cullen's beaten, stabbed and decaying body was found in a field off Route 30 on Aug. 25, 1991 by Baltimore homicide detectives. Morrison had forged a check for $2,000 from Mrs. Cullen's account while he worked for her as a nurse's aide.
Shellington and Morrison, who maintained that Mrs. Cullen "ran into" the knife that killed her, kidnapped the woman to keep her from pressing charges about the check.
Morrison's sentence includes a concurrent life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder, 20 years for kidnapping and five years for robbery. It prevents him from participating in self-improvement programs at the Maryland Penitentiary, Public Defender Barbara Kreinar told the court.
He also was convicted of felony murder in a kidnapping and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
"I keep going back to the idle hands cliche," Ms. Kreinar said, referring to the expression, "Idle hands are the devil's play."
"That's what we would have here. He has nothing to do but sit," she said.
"Maybe that is what the state is seeking, but we are seeking parity with the life imprisonment sentence his co-defendant received."
Morrison maintained his innocence during a lengthy plea to the judges, addressing each individually. They seemed unimpressed by his speech.
Morrison also vowed to prove his innocence through the legal system, which he called "unfair and unjust."
Shellington pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in September 1992.
Ms. Kreinar told the judges that only 6 percent of the Maryland inmates sentenced to life imprisonment receive parole.
The judges on the panel could order his other sentences to be served consecutively.
"I think the court can figure out a way to balance society's interests with Mr. Morrison's and give him some small hope that, when he is a very old man, he might be released," Ms. Kreinar said.
She said Morrison has resigned himself to his sentence.
During his year in prison, Morrison was denied access to college courses but has occupied himself by setting up a school with the other inmates, Ms. Kreinar said.
"This program is not only for the inmates, but the children coming up," Morrison said. "People may smirk, but we are going to have a problem with the children if we don't bring them up right.
"We've been before the judges and the system, so who is better than us to teach them how to stay away from the negatives in the system?"