Jury finds Ware guilty

Murder conviction is 2nd in '93 killings of ex-fiancee, friend

Verdict takes 2 1/2 hours

Sentencing phase of trial starts today

he is eligible for death

July 20, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury convicted Darris A. Ware yesterday of first-degree murder in the death of his ex-fiancee and her friend, and that opens the way for a decision this week on whether the former Navy seaman should be executed.

Relatives of the victims hugged and smiled through tears as Ware stood expressionless at the end of the first part of his retrial. In 1995, Ware was convicted and sentenced to death, but that was overturned on appeal.

If sentenced to death again, Ware, 28, will join 16 prisoners on Maryland's death row. All are housed in Baltimore at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center.

Court of Special Appeals Judge Raymond G. Thieme, presiding over the retrial, told jurors to return this morning to begin their role as sentencers. But Ware's attorneys said the Fort Pierce, Fla., native is unsure whether to request sentencing by the jury or by the judge.

He will get at least a life sentence in the deaths of Betina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and her friend, Cynthia V. Allen, 22.

They were at the Gentry home in Severn on Dec. 30, 1993. A man convicted in a killing who was on a prison telephone with Allen heard some of the fatal gun blasts.

No Anne Arundel jury has sentenced someone convicted of murder to death in at least 30 years, prosecutors said. In 1995, Judge Eugene M. Lerner sentenced Scotland E. Williams to death in the killings of two lawyers in their home outside Annapolis. The case was reversed on appeal. Williams was convicted again last year, and Judge Pamela L. North sentenced him to life without parole plus 70 years.

Prosecutors were pleased with the verdict, which jurors reached after deliberating 2 1/2 hours.

"The question was what degree [of murder], and I don't think they struggled very much with that, either," said Kathleen E. Rogers, assistant state's attorney.

Jurors also convicted Ware on two handgun charges, each of which would bring a sentence of five to 20 years, the first five without parole.

Assistant Public Defender Rodney C. Warren said he was disappointed by the verdict, which capped four days of testimony.

The Court of Appeals reversed the results of Ware's first trial, held in Howard County because of publicity. The state's highest judges said prosecutors violated rules by not revealing that a Baltimore County judge was waiting for the outcome of the Ware case to decide whether the life sentence for the key witness, the prisoner who heard the gunshots over the telephone, should be reduced.

Rogers told jurors that allegations that Ware arrived at the Gentry home with a loaded gun showed intent.

"What other intent do you have when you pull out your gun and fire it five times?" she said.

Warren had tried to discredit witnesses, especially Edward L. Anderson, the prisoner who overheard the shooting. Though Anderson acknowledged he wants his sentence reduced, prosecutors said they have made no promises.

The verdict leads to what is akin to a second trial, a sentencing in which Ware will fight for his life. Under Maryland law, a jury or a judge weighs aggravating and mitigating factors, among them the brutality of the crime and the background of the person convicted of murder charges. As with the verdict, the 10-man, 2-woman jury must be unanimous in its decision on life or death.

Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal promised the prosecution would be brief today in bolstering its bid for the death sentence. Edward Gentry and Ramon Vega, the fathers of the slain women, are expected to speak. Pryal will show photographs of the victims and discuss what prosecutors say is the calculated nature of the crime.

The defense will probably take tomorrow and much of Thursday to plead for Ware's life. Warren did not disclose his strategy. But in the sentencing for the first trial, the jury heard Ware apologize, saw photographs of him as a youngster, and listened to his mother, two childhood friends and high school football coach speak about him.

Relatives of the victims declined to talk about the verdict or the anguish of listening, for a second time, to details of the women's deaths. Some family members cried, shook their heads or left the courtroom as witnesses recounted the events.

Jurors heard a series of witnesses describe the failing relationship between Gentry and Ware that culminated in her death. Ware punched her in the face the morning of the slayings, after which her brother beat him and threw him out of the house, according to court records. Ware retaliated first by pointing his gun at Kevin Gentry -- Gentry did not know the weapon was empty -- and then by returning to the home just past noon, "armed and ready," Rogers said in her closing statements.

While Allen was on the telephone with Anderson, whose romantic letter to Betina Gentry was found in the Gentry living room, Gentry and Ware argued again. Anderson testified that Allen told him Ware was in the house. He said he heard screaming and shooting before he was disconnected.

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