Appeals court favors new trial for Sherman

December 19, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

A decision by a federal appeals court supporting a new trial for convicted murderer Timothy Scott Sherman may be appealed to the nation's highest court, says the chief of the criminal appeals division for the Maryland attorney general's office.

"We have 90 days to decide if we will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court," Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general, said Friday.

According to court records, Sherman was 18 when he was charged with murdering his mother, Ann Sherman, and adoptive father, Stevenson Sherman, as they slept in their Gibson Manor home near Hickory, north of Bel Air, on Oct. 12, 1987.

Each died of a single shotgun blast. Sherman is serving two life terms at the state penitentiary in Baltimore.

Since Sherman's conviction, his lawyers have sought a new trial because they contend a juror's visit to the crime scene was harmful to their defense. The trial judge and subsequent appellate courts have ruled that the juror's inspection of the crime scene did not prejudice the conviction.

On Oct. 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., ruled that the burden of proof was on the state to prove the juror's unauthorized visit was harmless, rather than on the defense to prove it was harmful.

The legal battle on this issue, however, is a long way from granting a new trial, said Joseph P. Meadows, a county assistant state's attorney.

"I feel confident that evidence presented at the trial would negate any prejudicial effect caused when a juror drove by the crime scene without the court's permission," said Mr. Meadows.

Bel Air attorney Stuart Jay Robinson, Sherman's uncle and one of his lawyers, said he regrets that the lengthy appellate process means that his nephew must sit in prison, waiting for the judicial system to amend the error and order a new trial.

"If Timmy had been found not guilty and the juror had come forth with information about his visiting the crime scene, I would advise him to share that information with the court and let the court decide if an outside influence had impacted on his decision," Mr. Robinson said Friday.

If the case isn't appealed to the Supreme Court, it will be sent to the federal District Court in Baltimore, said Mr. Bair. A judge there would have to review all the facts concerning the juror's unauthorized visit during Sherman's two-week trial, which ended June 7, 1988.

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