Hunt's execution delayed Adolfo family in shock over court's decision

June 01, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

Hilda Adolfo was struggling to get a bite of food down. That way, she could take her medicine. That way, maybe, she could face another day of talking about the man who put her son Vincent in the ground 11 years ago.

Then came the call.

It seemed fitting that it was from a television station, showing the Adolfos again just how the stormy legal system could toss their tiny boat about at will.

The Maryland Court of Appeals had stayed the execution of Flint Gregory Hunt until at least September, when they will review his case for yet another time since he shot Vincent Adolfo, a Baltimore police officer, on Nov. 18, 1985, while resisting arrest in East Baltimore.

Hunt was to die in the gas chamber within two weeks. Now a decision may not come until late September -- and could take longer, lawyers said yesterday.

Janet Grossnickle, Adolfo's sister, held the receiver away from her, as if it could bite. Then she put it down and wailed.

Her older sister, Carol Miconi, yelled from the kitchen to put the television on. And there it was, the news running silently across the bottom of the screen as a talk show lurched merrily toward a commercial break.

"He's going to live," sobbed Grossnickle. "He's going to stay in jail until they get tired of feeding him. He might get out. He might own a nightclub. He might own a restaurant."

Hilda Adolfo's blood pressure went racing. She walked around her kitchen, wringing her hands as if she would pull the skin off, her face set in a mask of tragedy and disbelief. Several years after Vince, she'd lost another son, Fred, to a construction accident.

Now her worried daughters called paramedics.

The Adolfos didn't know what was happening. The phone was ringing. They were trying to reach Tim Doory, the city prosecutor who had won two death sentences, who had been the man to explain all of this. Finally he got through. Just a delay, he explained to Miconi. They want to take more time with the transcripts. It doesn't mean his death sentence is lifted.

In the dining room, Hilda Adolfo put her hands over her heart. "Nothing's canceled, Hilda," called her husband, Fred.

At the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in downtown Baltimore, better known as Supermax, Hunt was speaking by telephone with his attorney, assistant public defender Katy C. O'Donnell. She said he let out a long sigh on the phone.

He told her he wanted to be left alone for a few days. No visits. "He said [his] feelings are too complicated to convey," O'Donnell said afterward. "He said he was going to take it one day at a time. It was not jubilation. He recognizes that this is not over."

And he said he was sorry for the Adolfo family, O'Donnell said -- not knowing that across town, the family was worried Hilda Adolfo might not make it.

In issuing its order to hear the appeal and granting the delay, the state's highest court withheld its reasons and the specifics. In arguments before the court Thursday morning, attorney Fred Bennett argued on Hunt's behalf that there had been errors during Hunt's trial and sentencing.

The issue that seemed to pique the seven judges' interest most was a 1986 memo in which prosecutors indicated that they had told a key witness in Hunt's case that they would bring his cooperation to the attention of a judge handling a separate assault case. The memo appeared to contradict statements in court by the prosecutors and their witness that no promises had been made.

Prosecutors have said the memo was inartfully drafted and did not reflect the truth.

Though lawmakers in Maryland and in Congress have moved in recent years to speed up imposition of death sentences, Hunt's case is one of few that operates under the old system. He was the last condemned inmate in Maryland to be able to file a second petition for post-conviction relief, doing so just days before a law eliminating that right took effect in October 1995, said Assistant State Attorney General Gary E. Bair.

That petition was denied in April by a Baltimore circuit judge -- and now the Court of Appeals has agreed to review it.

In the meantime, the death warrant that set Hunt's execution in the gas chamber for the week of June 10 is nullified. Bair said the state plans no further legal action until after the court has decided the current appeal.

Even after that appeal, Hunt may still have the option of pursuing a last federal review of his case, though a recent federal law could severely limit his ability to do so.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who came to town for a quick visit with Hunt in prison and had called on Gov. Parris N. Glendening to stop the execution, issued a statement lauding the court's action. Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the union that represents city police officers, has scheduled a prayer service outside police headquarters for 5 p.m. Tuesday in honor of officers and the Adolfos.

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