Wife-slayer requests visits from their son

January 31, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

As Angelo Wade slept in his crib, across the room his father took his mother's life.

Now Vincent Gregory Wade, serving a life sentence without parole for the 1992 killing, wants the right to require his son to visit him in prison and to stop Angelo's aunt and uncle from adopting him.

The case may be the first in Maryland to test the parental rights of a prisoner convicted of killing the child's other parent. Legislators in both houses of the General Assembly said they intend to introduce bills this week to keep such prisoners from blocking adoptions of their children.

Samuel Stewart, brother of Wade's slain wife, Jo Ann, has had custody of his nephew for almost two years. He and his wife, Janet, have formally sought to adopt Angelo, a bright-eyed boy now 3 1/2 years old.

What the Stewarts don't want is for Angelo ever to have to visit his father at the Maryland Penitentiary.

"He doesn't deserve to have to go to the prison every other week and be reminded of that," Janet Stewart said.

In a 1993 letter to Samuel Stewart, Wade said he couldn't let the couple cut him off from the child.

"I truely [sic] feel that Janet and yourself are very good people," the letter said. "I believe Angelo will be very happy and brought up to be a respectable young man in your care. . . . Unfortunately, at this time I do not think it would be best.

"I love my son very much. Much more than you may know. I have tried very hard to see Angelo. . . .Why now do you need to adopt him but to further our seperation [sic]?"

Wade, 31, did not respond to a letter requesting an interview sent to him last week.

Wade's mother, Rosemarie Wade of Lansdowne, took her grandson to the penitentiary to visit his father throughout 1993 without the Stewarts' knowledge. A Baltimore County master has since halted those visits.

"It was not traumatic," Mrs. Wade said. "They played together and had a good time.

"I never told him it was his father," she said. "I didn't want to confuse this child. I just want him to know Vincent so that when the time comes. . . . he'll know who Vincent is and that he's not a monster."

According to prosecutors, accusations that Wade had molested his stepdaughter led him to kill his 27-year-old wife three years ago.

When the girl, then 11, reported abuse, Jo Ann Wade kicked her husband out of the house and cooperated with police. Out on bail, Wade returned to the family apartment, ripped both telephones from the wall and suffocated his wife.

During his trial, his attorney at the time called Wade "an anguished, tormented soul" with "tremendous psychological problems." A Baltimore County judge nevertheless levied the maximum sentence of life without parole.

Jo Ann Wade's daughter, now 14, lives with her natural father and is not part of the adoption case.

Maryland law allows an "independent adoption" -- that is, one not sought by a social-services agency -- to proceed over the objections of a natural parent only under certain conditions.

If the parent has not maintained "meaningful contact" with the child despite the opportunity to do so; has failed to contribute to the care and support of the child; or has been convicted of abusing the child, the adoption can go forward if it is in the child's best interest.

None of those circumstances applies to Wade, said Roger A. Perkins, an Annapolis attorney representing him. The prisoner has had contact with his son by sending cards and seeing him on family days at the penitentiary. He has had his mother buy gifts for the child with his money, Mr. Perkins said. And Wade never was charged with abusing Angelo.

The Stewarts said they haven't seen any cards from Wade to his son. Mrs. Wade said she keeps them for the boy at her home, fearful that the Stewarts would destroy them.

One day Angelo told Mrs. Stewart that " 'Grandma Rosemarie took me to the big black house,' " Mrs. Stewart said. She said the child began having nightmares around that time and that she's sure are related to his visits to the penitentiary.

"The statute doesn't deal with their situation; I'll admit that," said the Stewarts' lawyer, Daniel J. Bartolini. "But here we have a man who killed the mother of this child. That child's been denied ever to see his mother's smile. Suppose Vincent gets out in 20 years. Angelo will be a man. Vincent can seek him out then."

Mr. Perkins disagreed. "Just because someone is sentenced to prison doesn't mean their parental rights should be terminated," he said.

That is why legislators plan to introduce bills on the issue this week. "In cases where the father kills the mother and wants to dictate the child's upbringing, I have a problem with that," said state Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

Angelo knows only that his "first mom" is dead, the Stewarts said. They are waiting until he gets older to tell him how it happened.

Meanwhile, the Stewarts said they already have run up about $13,000 in legal fees in the fight over Angelo. The couple have held fund-raising events, asked for help from their church and considered selling their house in Ferndale.

Rosemarie Wade also is contesting the adoption because she is afraid the Stewarts will keep her from seeing her grandson, though the Stewarts deny they would prevent her from visiting.

"I don't blame them," Mrs. Wade said. "It was their sister. I don't condone anything Vincent's done. It was just a really bad tragedy."

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