Lawyer aims for stay of client's execution Montgomery judge rejects claim of Balto. Co. injustice

November 07, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The legal team for condemned killer Tyrone X. Gilliam spent yesterday in court and on the street trying to halt the execution scheduled for the week of Nov. 16.

In the morning, attorney Jerome Nickerson tried to file appeals with a Montgomery County circuit judge in an apparent attempt to bypass judges in Baltimore County, where Gilliam was convicted in 1989 of murdering 21-year-old Christine Doerfler and sentenced to death.

Gilliam admitted participating in the carjacking and robbery before Doerfler's death, but not killing her.

Nickerson said treatment of the case in Baltimore County has been "highly irregular." Gilliam's family has accused the county's courts -- where most inmates on death row have been tried -- of being racist.

Montgomery Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr. told Nickerson that justice could be done in Baltimore County and referred the case back to the Circuit Court there.

"I don't know any reason why this defendant couldn't get justice," Ferretti said. "I am not the repository of justice in this state."

After the ruling, Nickerson withdrew his motions and announced yesterday afternoon that he would ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening to commute the 33-year-old's sentence.

At 3 p.m., Nickerson and death penalty opponents held a news conference outside the governor's Baltimore office. But

Nickerson did not officially ask for clemency. Instead, he said he will file an appeal on Monday with the state's highest court.

He said he would not file a clemency petition if the governor allowed Mary Ellen Barbera, a former deputy assistant attorney general in charge of criminal appeals now on the governor's legal team, to aid in the review of the clemency petition.

"I respectfully submit that when you take a party opponent -- literally someone who is standing against me in court and trying to kill my client -- and direct me to file that petition with that person, that is neither meaningful, nor fair, nor realistic," Nickerson said.

Andrea Leahy-Fuchek, the governor's chief legal counsel and Barbera's boss, said her office collects information to give to the governor for the review. Whether to grant a commutation "is the governor's decision."

Barbera said yesterday that she had limited direct involvement in the Gilliam case.

Nickerson's comments came amid a protest outside the governor's Baltimore office. Death penalty opponents held signs reading, "It's racist. It kills the innocent. It kills the poor. It kills the innocent. It doesn't deter crime. Abolish the Death Penalty."

"We're here asking the governor not to become a murderer," said protester Lorig Charkoudin, "and that he not make us murderers."

Pub Date: 11/07/98

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