Dead woman's parents differ over killer's fate Sources say mother favors clemency for death-row inmate

November 13, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The parents of murder victim Christine J. Doerfler have asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening to do two very different things with the life of her condemned killer. One wants to save it, the other to take it.

Sources confirmed yesterday that Margaret and Robert Doerfler sent letters to Glendening expressing their differing views about the pending execution of Tyrone X. Gilliam, who is to die by lethal injection next week.

Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning, who spoke with the Doerflers last night and has been in touch with them since their daughter's 1988 murder, said their divergence of opinions does not indicate a divided family.

"While each holds their own personal beliefs, they as a unit support the diversity of beliefs among them," Schenning said. "They are the most unified and supportive family I think I have ever had contact with in my entire life."

The Doerflers -- parents of nine children -- declined to comment, Schenning said.

Sources said Mrs. Doerfler is a devout Catholic and favors clemency.

Another relative -- whom officials would not identify -- sent a letter in April asking Glendening to pardon Gilliam, who twice has confessed to the crime.

Gilliam has said he never fired the sawed-off shotgun at the head of the 21-year-old hardware-store accountant a decade ago but acknowledged yesterday that he could not rule out being the trigger man.

Officials at the governor's office refused to release the letters yesterday, saying the family requested that they be kept confidential. The letters will be considered when -- and if -- Gilliam's attorney asks the governor to spare his client's life.

The letters "and all the other legal documents are part of what the governor will review and carefully look at when considering the case," said spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.

Gilliam's legal odyssey to block the execution continues despite a Baltimore County judge's refusal to hear his case yesterday. His attorney, Jerome H. Nickerson Jr., is expected to file additional appeals with Maryland's highest court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals and Montgomery County Circuit Court have declined to hear the appeal.

After exhausting other legal remedies, Nickerson is expected to ask Glendening for clemency.

'Vortex of litigation'

Last night, Nickerson said he did not want to comment on the desire of the victim's mother for the governor to commute 32-year-old Gilliam's death sentence. He said he knew the family wanted that kept confidential.

"I don't want them to be sucked up in this vortex of litigation over whether the death penalty is right or wrong," Nickerson said. "I want to respect human life and that includes the life that was lost."

Patricia Cushwa, chairwoman of the Maryland Parole Commission, who has read the letters, said the one from Mrs. Doerfler, 65, requests that Glendening spare Gilliam's life. She would not elaborate. A source familiar with the case summed up Mrs. Doerfler's letter this way: "She doesn't want to see this man executed."

Mr. Doerfler, 70, told the governor in his letter: "You have a terrible decision to make. I don't envy you, but I don't perceive there to be any circumstances to cause you to change the [judge's] decision," said the source, summarizing the father's letter.

The unidentified relative wrote in a letter dated April 14 that Gilliam should be given life without parole because "everyone deserves the right to live," said another source who had read it. "This person is Christian and believes that everyone should love their enemies."

Gilliam was convicted in 1989 of murdering Doerfler.

Doesn't remember

In an interview yesterday, Gilliam said he was so high on PCP and cocaine that he does not remember the night of the crime. Under questioning, he acknowledged that he could not rule out he fired the gun. But he said no physical evidence points to him, and at least one of his two co-defendants now says Gilliam was not the murderer.

"It's just like somebody who goes out with some friends and they're drinking, and somebody gets to doing things or saying things that the next morning his friends tell him that he did this and he did that," Gilliam said.

"And when he narrates those events, sometimes he may say, 'I did this,' and at other times he may say, 'They say I did this,' and at other times, 'I didn't do that,' " he added.

The night of the slaying, Dec. 2, 1988, Christine Doerfler had rented a movie and drove into the parking lot of her sister's Perry Hall townhouse complex.

Gilliam and Delano "Tony" Drummond jumped into her car carrying a shotgun. Upon discovering that she had only $3, they forced her to drive to bank machines in the area to withdraw money.

On a dead-end road, Gilliam got out of the vehicle and shot Doerfler, who sat seat-belted in the driver's seat, through the partially open window, according to testimony. Gilliam -- who that day had vowed to kill a woman -- told his companions that he did not want witnesses to their crime.

Drummond and his brother, Kelvin, who drove separately, are serving life sentences.

The last time Robert Doerfler saw his youngest daughter alive was 7 p.m. the day she died, according to court files. Mr. Doerfler had decided to order sandwiches for the three daughters living at home because their mother had gone out to dinner. The four sat on the living-room floor, watched television and ate dinner.

Afterward, Christine told her father she was going to visit her sister, Nancy, in Perry Hall. She never arrived.

Doerfler's funeral three days later drew nearly 1,000 friends and relatives. Her father coached soccer and softball at Mercy High School, where she had been a student.

"She never set out to change this world, only to make it a place we could all enjoy," her sister Nancy said at the funeral. "That's the kind of thing no one with a gun can ever take away from us."

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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