Slain woman's family awarded $2.75 million

April 07, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert and Sheridan Lyons | Patrick Gilbert and Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writers

A Baltimore County jury has awarded the family of Jane Tyson $2.75 million in a wrongful-death suit stemming from her murder on a parking lot in Westview Mall in June 1991.

After deliberating for four hours Tuesday, the jury returned the verdict against the Illinois partnership that owns the mall, citing the owners for negligence in failing to provide reasonably adequate security.

Most of the money, $1.9 million, was awarded to Mrs. Tyson's husband, John N. Tyson, 50, of the 6500 block of Redgate Circle in Westview Park. The other $850,000 was awarded to Mrs. Tyson's estate.

"Mr. Tyson is very gratified with the award and hopes that this will send a message to the business community that customers must be protected," said William F. Gately, a partner in the firm that represented the Tyson family.

Mr. Gately said neither Mr. Tyson nor other family members would comment directly on the verdict.

Keith A. Rosenberg, attorney for the mall owners, said he and his clients were disappointed. "We are considering an appeal," he said but declined further comment.

The suit identified the mall's owners as Westview Mall Associates and two general partners, Balcor Development Co. of Maryland and ROCLAB-D Corp, all based in Skokie, Ill.

Late in March, Westview Mall Associates filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, citing as its major debt a $27 million loan from the Bank of Montreal.

The mall, at U.S. 40 West and the Beltway, was purchased by the partnership in August 1989.

David H. Nevins, president of Nevins & Associates, the mall's public relations firm, said the bankruptcy case would have no bearing on the mall owners' ability to pay the award if the verdict stands.

"In fact, the bankruptcy court exempted any potential award in this case from the Chapter 11 case," he said.

Mr. Tyson's suit alleged that the owners knew about a violent crime wave at the mall but did not protect his wife. Mrs. Tyson, 49, was shot to death in front of her two grandchildren June 6, 1991, during a robbery that netted $10. She had gone to the mall to buy a pair of shoes.

The Baltimore man who shot Mrs. Tyson, Wesley Baker, 34, was sentenced to death by a Harford County Circuit judge in October 1992. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the sentence last November.

His accomplice, Gregory Lawrence of Woodlawn, was convicted and sentenced to life plus 33 years in January for his role in the crime.

The civil suit charged that during the 17 months before Mrs. Tyson's death, 27 violent crimes were committed at the mall or in its parking lots. Yet the mall had only one security guard patrolling its parking areas.

"We essentially say there was an enormous amount of very serious criminal activity going on at the mall prior to her death," Mr. Gately told the jurors.

He said Westview's owners "should have known about it. Having known about it, they should have provided far more security."

Mr. Rosenberg told the jury in his opening statement that the plaintiff's argument was "based on a false notion -- that crime can be prevented."

Mrs. Tyson's assailants didn't care about warning signs or patrol cars, he said.

"What difference do these make to a man who shoots a woman to death in front of her grandchildren?" he asked.

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