Supreme Court denies appeal by Md. inmates Permission is implied for state to block death sentence challenges

June 02, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The state of Maryland gained the Supreme Court's implied permission yesterday to start blocking new court challenges by death row inmates, thus quickening the pace of executions in the state.

In a brief order, the court turned aside an appeal by five inmates who contended Maryland is not eligible to use a 1996 law that was designed to cut off multiple court challenges to murder convictions and death sentences.

The five inmates may still make their argument that Maryland has not met the key test under that law of providing free and professionally competent attorneys to help defendants challenge death sentences. But each inmate now has to try to make the case individually rather than as a group.

State prosecutors expect to attempt the first use of their power to block an inmate's legal challenge Monday, in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. in Greenbelt.

That case involves Eugene Colvin-El, who has been sentenced to die for the 1980 stabbing murder of an elderly Florida woman who was visiting her daughter in Pikesville. Colvin-El has filed repeated challenges to his conviction and sentence in federal court, and has a new one pending.

The state, however, contends that his latest lawsuit does not satisfy the new federal court filing deadlines, and thus must be thrown out. In response to that argument, Colvin-El's lawyer is raising the issue of the state's eligibility to oppose his latest plea.

Three other inmates on death row also are facing early challenges by the state, and they, too, are expected to test the state's right to oppose their cases, according to Maryland Assistant Attorney General Gwynn X. Kinsey Jr. The other three are John Booth, Stephen H. Oken and Wesley Eugene Baker.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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