Condemned killer argues for his life Gilliam's attorney plans appeal today to top state court

November 09, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Some days, condemned killer Tyrone X. Gilliam wishes it was all over. Waking up every morning on death row, he says, thinking about being executed, is like being a hostage.

"Sometimes you say, 'Would you please pull the trigger and get it over with,' " the soft-spoken man with a disarming smile says, "and sometimes you say, 'Would you please lower the gun?' "

But Gilliam, slated for execution by lethal injection the week of Nov. 16, doesn't want to die. Today, his attorney plans to file appeals to Maryland's highest court. If that fails, Gilliam is expected to ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a death penalty supporter, to spare his life.

Gilliam, 32, thinks he should be punished for his role in the robbery and carjacking of Christine Doerfler a decade ago. But he insists that he did not fire the sawed-off shotgun that blasted the back of the 21-year-old woman's head as she sat in her Nissan Sentra. Being the convicted trigger-man qualifies him for the death penalty.

"I am not a murderer," Gilliam said in an interview at the state's Supermax prison in Baltimore. He wore a khaki jumpsuit and a blue hat symbolizing his membership in the Nation of Islam.

"There is no benefit to killing me. There's benefit in my life when you see the brothers I have influenced," he said.

In the interview, Gilliam said he did not know who killed Doerfler, a hardware store accountant, though he has confessed to the crime twice -- to police and to his former lawyer, court records show.

Gilliam dismisses those confessions, saying he was under the influence of the drug PCP when he talked to police, and he admitted guilt months later in a letter to his former lawyer because the lawyer told him that would sway the sentencing judge to spare him from the death penalty.

None of this convinces Baltimore County prosecutors who have been fighting through years of appeals to have him executed.

"He was found guilty by a judge. He subsequently confessed to his attorney. There is no question that he is the one that pulled the trigger and killed this young woman," Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said yesterday. "Everything he is saying now is self-serving."

Gilliam's path from Middle River to death row is has been relatively short. He was born on Aug. 29, 1966 -- the eldest of four children born to Mary and Tyrone Gilliam Sr. His father -- who moved to Texas -- works as a machinist.

His home was marked by "extreme" violence between his parents -- who divorced -- and abuse at the hands of a step-grandfather, according to a defense "psychosocial" report.

Gilliam's first encounter with the law came at 13 when he was charged with destruction of property. The case was dismissed. He later pleaded guilty to robbery in Greensboro, N.C., while a student at Baltimore County's Overlea High School. He spent two years in jail.

Doerfler was killed about a year after Gilliam's release, during a several-day crime spree. Gilliam said he had been taking cocaine and PCP -- part of an escalating drug problem financed in part by a $2,600 school loan he received, ostensibly for schooling to become a barber.

The money, which he says he received a month before the Dec. 2, 1988, crime, allowed him to buy cocaine on a regular basis. Then he started mixing the cocaine with PCP.

"That was it right there," Gilliam said. He said he barely remembers the night of the crime.

A 1989 presentence investigation concluded:

"The subject was apparently in a desperate search for money to nurture his drug habit in a fashion devoid of any concern for human life."

At Gilliam's trial, one of his co-defendants, Kelvin Drummond, testified against him, telling the judge that Gilliam wanted to keep a shotgun shell as a memento and talked about doing a "head job" on Doerfler, according to accounts of the trial in court files.

Kelvin Drummond, who also testified against his brother, Delano "Tony" Drummond, received life with the possibility of parole. Tony Drummond is serving life without parole.

The three decided to rob Doerfler as she pulled into her sister's townhouse complex in Perry Hall. Wearing a pink sweat shirt and gray sweat pants, Doerfler had just returned from renting a movie when Gilliam and Tony Drummond jumped into her car. After discovering she had only $3, they forced her to drive to bank machines.

Kelvin Drummond followed the three in another car. Doerfler's car turned down a dead-end road. Gilliam got out, shot Doerfler through the partially open driver's side window and then returned to the other car. He told the brothers he did not want any witnesses to their robbery, according to testimony.

Two days later, police arrested Gilliam after a high-speed chase that ended when Gilliam crashed into a highway median.

He told police, court records show, that the killing was an accident. He had taken the gun away from Delano Drummond because he was afraid of him, he told police.

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