With attention focused on the issue of domestic violence since the killing last week of Patricia A. Titus of Hampstead, Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes says he will propose state legislation next year to allow prosecutors to request the death penalty in murder cases that result from the violation of a protective court order.
Titus, 40, the mother of two small boys, was found June 2 by police in a bedroom closet of her home. She had been strangled, according to a state medical examiner's report.
Barnes said he would enlist support for the proposal from county and state legislators, and staff members of organizations combating domestic violence. His interest in the issue goes back at least six months, when he began working with the county's Domestic Violence Task Force to address such problems.
Because of first-degree murder charges filed against John T. Titus, Patricia Titus' estranged husband, Barnes said, he would not comment on that case.
"Domestic violence cases desperately need stiffer sentences to serve as deterrents," Barnes said. "Victims of domestic violence need and deserve protection."
Under state law, anyone violating an ex parte protective order is subject to a maximum jail sentence of 90 days.
"A 90-day penalty is ridiculous," Barnes said. "Ex parte violators should receive a minimum sentence of at least three years."
Ex parte means a judge has heard only one side of a dispute, usually when a woman files a complaint alleging domestic violence or harassment.
Barnes said it is difficult to persuade legislators to broaden coverage of the death penalty statute. His proposal would add an 11th aggravating circumstance under which prosecutors could seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors may seek the death penalty when a killing is committed under these circumstances:
* The victim was a law enforcement officer performing his duties.
* The defendant committed the act while confined in any correctional institution.
* The defendant was attempting to escape or evade lawful custody, arrest or detention.
* The victim had been kidnapped.
* The victim was an abducted child.
* The defendant received or was promised remuneration to commit the offense.
* The defendant hired someone else who committed the offense.
* The defendant was under sentence of death or life in prison when the offense occurred.
* The defendant committed more than one first-degree murder in the same incident.
* The defendant committed the offense during a carjacking, robbery, first-degree arson, rape or first-degree sexual offense.
Pub Date: 6/10/97