Life term for DeLong challenged

January 05, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

A member of the jury that found Jason Aaron DeLong guilty of conspiring to kill his mother -- but not criminally responsible for murdering her and her boyfriend -- has written a letter opposing the life sentence DeLong would serve upon his release from a state mental hospital.

And, in a legal maneuver rarely -- if ever -- used in Maryland, DeLong's lawyers are seeking to use the juror's opposition as the basis for throwing out the conspiracy conviction and the resulting sentence.

In Carroll Circuit Court filings last week, DeLong's lawyers say that juror Lisa A. Quesinberry should have been allowed to read a letter at DeLong's Nov. 23 sentencing hearing in which she calls any prison sentence "a mockery" of DeLong's psychological treatment program.

"Ms. Quesinberry's letter bears heavily upon Jason DeLong's motion for a new trial, and upon his petition for a modification or reduction of sentence," Luther C. West, DeLong's court-appointed attorney, wrote in his most recent motion.

"The court committed grievous error when it refused to accept the letter in evidence at the sentencing hearing." Mr. West says that the letter "conclusively shows" that the conspiracy verdict was "illegal and should be set aside."

DeLong, 20, admitted to stabbing his mother, Cathryn Brace Farrar, and her boyfriend, George William Wahl, in Ms. Farrar's Westminster apartment in July 1993. DeLong claimed that he was driven to the killings after a lifetime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother.

Last September, a Carroll jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree murder in the deaths, but said he wasn't criminally responsible for his actions because he was insane. The jury found him guilty of and responsible for one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

DeLong's girlfriend of one week, Sara Elizabeth Citroni, pleaded guilty to the slayings and is serving two consecutive life sentences.

When Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold imposed the life sentence for the conspiracy count, DeLong's attorneys unsuccessfully argued to allow Ms. Quesinberry to read her letter.

Denying the request, prosecutors said, is exactly what Judge Arnold should have done.

Ara Crowe, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore who tried the case, said that once a jury has reached a verdict and its members are polled, their decision can't be "impeached." He said that DeLong's use of the Ms. Quesinberry's opinion is "extremely unusual."

Ms. Quesinberry wrote, "It was never my intent to have Jason DeLong serve a prison term after receiving treatment for his mental illness. I believe the other members of the jury shared my intentions.

"Imposing such a prison sentence will hinder Jason DeLong's rehabilitation and add to the tragedy of this case," her letter says.

Whatever Ms. Quesinberry or her colleagues may have thought about the possible sentence DeLong could have received is likely irrelevant under the law, according to a University of Maryland law professor.

"It's not something that happens very often," said Jerome E. Deise, who teaches at the school's criminal

law clinic. "In fact, this is the first time, and I've been at this for about 19 years, when I've seen a situation where a juror wants to participate in the sentencing process."

Juries in Maryland -- with the exception of juries in some death penalty cases -- are specifically barred from considering sentencing ramifications when they consider innocence or guilt, Mr. Deise said.

But barring them from thinking about sentences is certainly not going to prevent all juries from wiping the consequences of their verdicts from their minds.

"There is always a human factor you can't eliminate from the equation," the professor said.

DeLong is serving his life sentence while he is confined to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. Once doctors there determine that he no longer is a threat to himself or to society, he will serve out the rest of his sentence at a state prison.

No hearing date has been set for DeLong's latest request.

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