Federal appeals court will consider claim of convicted Bel Air slayer for a new trial

January 24, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court has taken away the legal victory won last month by Timothy Scott Sherman of Bel Air in his murder case and will consider anew his claim that he is entitled to a new trial.

Convicted eight years ago of shooting to death his mother and stepfather, Sherman is serving two terms of life in prison at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. He was 18 at the time of the October 1987 slayings at the family home near Hickory.

He has argued that the guilty verdict was tainted because a juror at his trial made an unauthorized visit to the crime scene and described it to other jurors.

Under a ruling Dec. 4 by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., Sherman was to be given a new trial because the juror misconduct unduly influenced the jury to convict him. The court panel gave state prosecutors six months to hold a new trial or else release Sherman.

That ruling was the first major victory Sherman had won in years of court challenges, including an unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court. He took his constitutional challenge to federal court after failing in state courts and in his plea to the Supreme Court.

But the state of Maryland asked the full 13-member appeals court to rehear the case and up hold Sherman's conviction. The state argued that the three-judge panel had reached its decision improperly by considering evidence that had not been considered by state courts.

The state said that as the case was moving through state courts, there was no indication that the juror who visited the crime scene had told other jurors about the visit. Federal courts, the state said, are not to consider evidence that could have been brought out in state court but was not.

Last week, a majority of the full appeals court voted to reconsider the case and set a hearing for the first week in June. That had the effect of wiping out the three-judge panel's ruling, compelling Sherman's lawyers to try to convince the full court that he had been wrongly convicted.

Attorneys in the case were told this week of the full court's action.

Under federal court rules, the side that loses a case before a three-judge panel of an appeals court is entitled to try to get the case reconsidered by the full court. A majority vote of the judges is required to do so. The appeals court did not disclose how the 13 judges voted.

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