Inmates critical of death penalty Punishment's opponents hear from two killers

September 23, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The man next in line to be executed in Maryland blasted the system of capital punishment last night, calling it "wholly politicized."

People "are executed because of the political aspirations of prosecutors and judges," Tyrone Gilliam said over speakerphone from the maximum-security prison where he is being held. "They are executed for everything except the crime."

Gilliam's comments and those from fellow death-row inmate Kenneth Collins were broadcast into a packed Baltimore church as part of a campaign to end the death penalty. For about an

hour, the two men spoke of their daily lives in prison and the fear that they will one day die for the crimes for which they were convicted.

"I'm trying to prepare [myself] even though I am begging that day will never come," Collins said in the sometimes jumbled phone conversation from the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, the so-called Supermax at 401 E. Madison St. in Baltimore.

Gilliam is on the last leg of his appellate process. His case is scheduled to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in the first week of October. If his appeal is denied, the sentencing judge can formally sign his death warrant. Authorities believe that the execution could take place as early as November.

Gilliam was convicted in June 1989 of shooting Christine Doerfler, 21, in the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun. The murder came after Doerfler was carjacked from in front of her sister's Baltimore County townhouse and forced to drive around looking for a bank machine because she only had $3 on her.

A co-defendant in Gilliam's case testified that Gilliam shot the woman because she had seen his face. The co-defendant, Kelvin Drummond, received life in prison as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Several state and federal courts have upheld Gilliam's conviction. His attorney, Jerome Nickerson, is arguing before the Supreme Court that Gilliam did not receive a fair trial. He argues a conflict of interest tainted the case because Gilliam's attorney asked for assistance from the public defender's office, which was representing the state's main witness, Kelvin Drummond.

"They couldn't help Gilliam to the extent [that] they damaged their own client," Nickerson said.

Sue A. Schenning, deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, said that Gilliam confessed to the crime.

"The judge decided that this was the kind of case that cried out for the death penalty," Schenning said yesterday.

Collins' execution date could be as far as a year away. He was convicted of the Dec. 7, 1986 murder of Wayne Leander Breeden, who was robbed of $80 after making a withdrawal from an automated teller machine in Baltimore County. Breeden was beaten with a gun butt, then shot in the back as he tried to stagger away.

Collins' attorney, Peter Keith, said his client had an inadequate representation and there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Yesterday, death-penalty opponents said that the sentence is applied arbitrarily. They say the system discriminates against the poor and minorities. All but three of the 15 men awaiting execution in Maryland are black. All but four of their collective 19 victims were white.

"Its racist to the core," said Mike Stark, district coordinator for Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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