Judge sentencing Gilliam did 'duty' Death penalty decision 'not pleasant," he says, but needed to be done

November 19, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The six people who pumped lethal drugs into Tyrone X Gilliam's arm Monday night stood behind a wall in the death chamber so that no one would know who they were.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II didn't strap Gilliam to the table or start the drip. But it was Fader's decision that put Gilliam in the death chamber -- a decision he made in public, in his courtroom, where there was no wall to shield him.

On Monday night, just as on the day nine years ago when he sentenced Gilliam to death for murdering 21-year-old Christine Doerfler, Fader said he had a heavy heart.

"You come out here and you do the job that needs to be done," Fader said, sitting in the Towson courtroom where he tried Gilliam's case. "It's certainly not a pleasant duty. It's very, very hard."

Fader, 57, better known for trying to sort out messy divorce and child custody cases, was put in a position with the Gilliam case.

In death-penalty cases, a jury usually decides the fate of the defendant in either the criminal case or the sentencing phase.

A jury decided Flint Gregory Hunt should be put to death for killing a city police officer. Hunt was executed last year by lethal injection.

Fader alone convicted and sentenced Gilliam for Doerfler's murder in a robbery that netted $3.

"It's one of the most difficult decisions" a judge has to make, said Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel, a colleague of Fader, who has sentenced one man to death. "You have in your hands the ultimate sanction. That is an awesome responsibility."

Gilliam, 32, is the only man Fader has sentenced to death. Fader has given life in prison to two other defendants facing execution in his courtroom.

In one of those cases, the jury had voted to send a man to the death chamber, but the sentence was reversed on appeal. Fader gave him a life sentence.

In both cases, Fader saw reasons to spare their lives. One of the defendants had a history of psychiatric problems -- and later BTC hanged herself in prison. The other had been in foster care his entire life and was living in a bus at the time of the murder he committed.

Fader saw no reason under the law to excuse Gilliam from the ultimate punishment.

"It was a coldblooded murder, and what a waste of human life, a vibrant life," he said.

Gilliam had confessed to the crime. A co-defendant testified that Gilliam had done it. Fader did not believe drugs Gilliam had taken that night -- PCP and cocaine -- had fundamentally impaired his judgment.

"He had as much support help from a loving, caring family with the ability to help as most people have in life," Fader said at the 1989 sentencing hearing. "He chose not to accept that advice, that counseling, that opportunity. He chose drugs, and the crime that was committed here."

When he sentenced Gilliam, the judge said he thought of the picture of Christine Doerfler with a two-inch hole in the back of her head.

He said he thought of the life draining out of her young body as she sat in her car at the deadend of Gum Spring Road.

"I can say only with a heavy heart and with no satisfaction with the duty that I must perform that I conclude that death is the sentence to be applied in this case," Fader said at the time.

He signed Gilliam's death warrant several times over the past nine years as the case was appealed to court after court. When he signed the warrant in October, he knew that this would be the last one. Every time he saw Doerfler's picture flash across the screen, he said, he thought of the crime again.

On Monday night, Fader watched the accounts of the execution on television. He had no regrets. Just a heavy heart.

"Sometimes the events of life surround all of us like thick smoke in a closed room," he said, recounting the words of a favorite book. "That is a death penalty case from the minute it is filed. You are smothered with the magnitude of the situation."

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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