Death row mercy plea may hurt Glendening He risks alienating liberals in close race by allowing execution

Killer likely to appeal soon

October 10, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke and Laura Lippman contributed to this article.

A convicted murderer facing a mid-November execution date will soon ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening for clemency, a request that could pose political risks for the governor in the final stretch of his hotly contested re-election effort.

Tyrone Gilliam is scheduled to be executed the week of Nov. 16, but his attorneys are expected to ask Glendening for mercy in a request that could be filed before the Nov. 3 election.

Glendening, a death penalty supporter, is not considered likely to grant clemency in the case.

But the governor is expected to receive pressure from anti-death penalty advocates and others in coming weeks, publicity that could turn off some of Glendening's more liberal supporters.

"The voters and citizens of Maryland need to know and see clearly at this time what Gov. Parris Glendening shows himself to be in the days to come," John Gilliam-Price, Gilliam's brother-in-law, said in a recent interview.

An advocacy group, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, is planning an Oct. 31 demonstration outside Glendening's house near College Park, both on behalf of Gilliam and to focus attention on the issue of capital punishment.

A last-minute death penalty case would be an unwelcome distraction for Glendening, who is locked in what polls show to be a dead heat with Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey,analysts said.

"It could be an absolute no-winner for Glendening," said Keith Haller, a pollster in Bethesda.

Complicating the matter for Glendening is the fact that Gilliam is black, as are 11 of the other 14 men on Maryland's death row.

While a majority of African Americans in Maryland support the death penalty, they do so in smaller numbers than do whites, according to public opinion polls.

Governor counting on blacks

Glendening is counting on a substantial Election Day turnout by black voters, who make up one of his most important core constituencies, and anything that dampens enthusiasm among those voters hurts his chances, analysts said.

"You clearly don't want visible protests against the governor within black communities, or among church leaders, because that only sends a mixed message," Haller said. "You're trying to get universal excitement for the governor's campaign in the waning days."

Glendening said he does not expect the Gilliam case to become a political issue. "Absolutely not. It would be outrageous," the governor said.

"I'll review the facts, and I'll be very, very deliberate," the governor said of the clemency process. "I will make that decision HTC in a timely and appropriate manner. The only thing you can do is try to do the right thing."

Gilliam was convicted at age 22 in June 1989 of murdering Christine Doerfler. a hardware store accountant, during a robbery that netted $3. At his trial, a companion testified that the night of Dec. 1, 1988 -- two days before the slaying -- Gilliam had vowed to kill a woman.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader signed a death warrant for Gilliam earlier this week, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of his case.

The exact time of the execution during the week of Nov. 16 is to be determined by prison authorities -- unless blocked by a court or Glendening.

Gilliam's attorney did not return a phone message yesterday.

Michael Stark, an organizer of the anti-death penalty campaign, said Gilliam's attorney and family have debated the value of filing a request before the election and injecting it as a political issue.

"My feeling is we have very little to lose," Stark said.

Glendening became the first Maryland governor in 36 years to allow the state to execute an inmate against his will in July 1997, when Flint Gregory Hunt was put to death by lethal injection.

John Frederick Thanos was put to death by lethal injection in May 1994, during the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, but Thanos did not contest the sentence.

Not an issue

The death penalty has not been an issue in the governor's race; both Glendening and Sauerbrey favor it.

The Rev. Douglas Miles, the head of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and a Glendening supporter, said the alliance has historically opposed the death penalty, but played down the impact the Gilliam case would have in the black community.

"Both candidates favor the death penalty, so that really doesn't play out as an issue, given the two candidates we have," Miles said.

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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