EASTON -- Ivan Lovell, 25, who pleaded guilty to killing a Maryland state trooper during a traffic stop in Somerset County last fall, was sentenced to death by lethal injection last night.
After more than five hours of deliberations, the Talbot County Circuit Court jury returned to the courtroom at 9: 30 p.m. to deliver its unanimous verdict.
Lovell, of Manteo, N.C., showed no emotion as the verdict was read, and the family of slain Tfc. Edward A. Plank Jr. made no sound.
"We feel like justice has been served," Lori Plank, the trooper's widow, said after the verdict. "Nobody wins in this situation. I want my husband back, but he's not coming back."
Lovell pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Plank's shooting. Lovell and a cousin, William Lynch, were returning to North Carolina from a drug-buying trip in New York when Plank stopped them for speeding on U.S. 13 early on the morning of Oct. 17. When they were stopped, there was $63,000 worth of cocaine in the car, and a 45-caliber Llama semiautomatic handgun, which Lovell used to kill the trooper.
"Obviously, we're saddened by the verdict," said Lovell's attorney, Thomas Saunders. "We will take an appeal from it. The [Lovell] family has indicated their sadness for this and for the family of Trooper Plank."
Mrs. Plank, her father-in-law, Edward A. Plank Sr. and Saunders spoke at a brief news conference after the verdict was announced at 9: 40 p.m. The session on the steps of the courthouse ended abruptly, however, when about a dozen blacks gathered near the steps and shouted down Col. David Mitchell, head of the state police.
"That young man has a son, too. You call this justice?" shouted Lisa Bryant, a resident of Easton.
Mitchell tried to respond but Bryant and others shouted him down and he stepped away from the microphone, as did the two dozen friends and Plank family members who attended the trial.
Bryant said she had come to the courthouse because she is interested in the issue.
"I'm opposed to the death penalty. That's not right," she said. Lovell is black; Plank was white.
The verdict capped a four-day trial to determine Lovell's sentence. Earlier yesterday, both Mrs. Plank and Lovell made emotional appeals to the jury.
"You single-handedly shattered my dreams," Lori Plank said to Lovell. "Please tell me where the fairness is. Eddie's life meant something. And to me, your life means nothing."
As her testimony, Mrs. Plank read aloud a two-page letter addressed to Lovell. She was the state's final witness in the sentencing phase of the trial, which began Monday. The trial was held here because of extensive pretrial publicity and because a defendant is automatically entitled to a change of venue when the state seeks the death penalty.
Lovell did not appear as a witness. Instead, he chose to speak directly to the jury. In a rambling 10-minute speech, Lovell pleaded for his life, quoting the Bible and acknowledging his fault.
"I'm sorry. I know I've caused the Plank family a lot of grief, and I deeply am sorry," Lovell said. "I never meant to hurt nobody, but I was just scared." Lovell told the jury that he was afraid that Plank was going to beat him during the traffic stop.
The Plank family, and about a dozen state troopers -- including Mitchell, listened without reaction as Lovell spoke. But when he asked for forgiveness, Mrs. Plank bolted from the room and did not return until Lovell had finished.
In closing arguments, Somerset County State's Attorney Logan C. Widdowson asked jurors to bear in mind that Lovell and Lynch had cocaine and a handgun in the car when Plank stopped them for speeding. He pointed to Lovell's extensive criminal history -- a string of drug-related convictions dating to 1988.
"If this is not death in a plastic bag, then you tell me what it is," Widdowson said, holding aloft the cocaine found in Lovell's car. "He shot Eddie Plank in the face. How many chances did he have prior to the 17th of October 1995 to straighten himself out? A lot. This man has done nothing to change his life."
Lovell's attorney asked the jury to recognize the sanctity of human life by sentencing Lovell to life in prison without parole.
"We don't necessarily do it for Mr. Lovell's sake," Saunders said. "We do it for ours -- to let go of hatred, to let go of vengeance."
Pub Date: 6/28/96