Death sentence overturned in 1995 murder of trooper Judge's failure to define 'youthful age' is noted

November 13, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Maryland's highest court overturned yesterday the death penalty for the man who pleaded guilty to the 1995 murder of a Maryland state trooper on the Eastern Shore because, it said, the trial judge failed to define "youthful age" for the jury that was considering the sentence.

But the Court of Appeals upheld Ivan F. Lovell's guilty plea on first-degree murder in the death of Trooper Edward A. Plank Jr.

tTC The court's action returns the case to Talbot County for a new jury to decide whether the Manteo, N.C., resident should be put to death or serve life in prison. The case had been moved from Somerset County, where the shooting occurred, to Talbot County because of publicity.

"My hope is that justice will prevail and the original sentence will be reimposed after another hearing," Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent, said in a written statement.

Plank, 28, was killed Oct. 17, 1995, near Princess Anne after he pulled over a car for speeding and was shot by the driver. He left a wife and infant son.

In reversing Lovell's death sentence, all seven judges agreed that the trial judge, William S. Horne, should have explained to the jury what the legal phrase "youthful age" meant when, several hours into deliberations, jurors asked for a definition. Horne decided not to give them one.

"Youthful age" is among the mitigating circumstances a jury considers when deciding on the death sentence. It includes such issues as the convicted killer's maturity, criminal behavior, work history and home environment, not just his age. Lovell, 24 at the time of the slaying, had spent most of the previous seven years incarcerated on drug offenses, had a 10th-grade education and had no work history.

"If only one juror was not persuaded that youthful age, coupled with the absence of any conviction of a crime of violence were outweighed by the aggravating circumstances, the jury could not impose a death sentence," the court ruled.

Five of the judges also said Lovell's appearance in court in shackles, over his objection, may have prejudiced the jury. Horne had instructed the jury that restraining someone in Lovell's situation was "the normal proceeding."

But, the high court judges wrote, shackling is prejudicial and can be done only after an "individualized evaluation" in which prosecutors justify it.

"You need to have some reason why that person is a threat," said Lovell's lawyer, Melissa M. Moore.

Moore said she is unsure whether she would appeal Lovell's guilty plea to the U.S. Supreme Court. Moore said she does not believe Lovell understood that he could be sentenced to death when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Plank pulled over Lovell's red car after clocking it at 74 mph in a 55 mph zone on U.S. 13.

As Trooper Dennis Lord watched, Plank told Lovell to get out of the car. Lovell opened his door and shot Plank in the face. Lord and Lovell traded shots, then the red car sped off.

Lovell and his companion, William S. Lynch, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were captured later that day. Lynch could not be charged with a capital offense and pleaded guilty to lesser crimes. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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