Victims' fathers speak of anguish

Sentencing hearing for Ware scheduled to continue today

July 21, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The fathers of two murder victims wept on the witness stand yesterday as they told an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury that will decide whether to execute their daughters' murderer how his crimes shattered their families.

On Monday, the same jury convicted former Navy seaman Darris A. Ware, 28, of first-degree murder in the fatal shootings of his ex-fiancee Betina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and her friend, Cynthia V. Allen, 22, in the Gentry home in Severn.

The same 10 men and two women turned their attention to sentencing yesterday. As the parents fought to keep their voices audible and to regain composure, many jurors looked sad and other relatives of the victims wiped away tears. The defense will begin its presentation today.

Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal told presiding Court of Special Appeals Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. that the victims' relatives do not want a death sentence because they fear it will be more likely to lead to a reversal on appeal.

This is a retrial of a 1995 conviction and death sentence for Ware, erased when the Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors violated court rules by not sharing information with the defense.

Jurors were not told of the families' sentiments or of the first trial.

Edward L. Gentry told them his daughter was a "daddy's girl," the baby who rejuvenated him after he returned from his Army years in Vietnam, later the teen-ager who telephoned him every morning.

Now, "there are no more holidays," he said.

A counselor for Vietnam veterans, he said he cannot get through the pain and grief. When the telephone rings in the morning, he jumps. "A car goes by, I see her. I had an operation, I could feel her holding my hand," he said.

"I was shot," Gentry said. "I was a soldier I never cried." But he wept as he recalled celebrating Kristi's birthday and his, which were five days apart. "Why do I have a birthday now?"

He said Kristi's death has changed his sons and has been especially hard on his wife, who found Kristi dead and Allen barely alive. "It's going to kill her, I know it," he said.

Gentry said he took pride in his children's accomplishments. His daughter was studying physical therapy at Anne Arundel Community College and working for a Crofton physician, and she was awaiting word on a scholarship and acceptance to a Johns Hopkins University program.

"She was killed one day and got accepted the next day. She never knew," he said.

According to testimony in the trial, Ware hit Kristi Gentry the morning of Dec. 30, 1993. Her brother, Kevin Gentry, threw him out of the house, only to have Ware point a gun at him. The gun was not loaded.

Ware returned to the Gentry home with ammunition, shooting Gentry as they argued and then Allen as she cowered in a bathroom.

Gentry's screams and some of the gunshots were heard by a friend, a convicted killer who had been on the telephone from prison with Allen when Gentry and Ware's dispute escalated.

No chance for goodbye

"There is so much pain in my heart," said Ramon Vega, Allen's father. "It's like somebody turned the lights off in the house."

He described his daughter as a joy to raise. Her friends used to call him "Papa," too. He said she grew up to be a happy woman who delighted in her own daughters, just as he savored every milestone in his children's lives. "Every time she got paid, she went out and got something for the kids," he said.

Alexis is now 8 and Courtney 11. The younger girl doesn't remember her mother; the older one still cries over the loss.

Vega said he was in Puerto Rico, having buried his father who was killed Christmas Day 1993, when another daughter telephoned to say Allen was shot and dying.

"When we got to Shock Trauma, it was too late; my daughter was already dead. We didn't get a chance to say goodbye," Vega said.

Sorrow, stress and loneliness have supplanted barbecues, Christmas celebrations and family gatherings, he said. He finds his wife sobbing in the middle of the night.

The sentencing opened with obvious discord between Ware and his public defenders. Instead of wearing a tie and jacket, as he had done throughout the trial, Ware appeared with an undershirt sticking out from prison drabs, with MCAC emblazoned on the back.

Though he had been housed in the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center after his first trial and death sentence, he was moved to the county jail for this retrial and reportedly has been uncooperative in the courthouse lockup. Ware decided to go against his lawyers' advice and have the jury, not the judge, sentence him.

Issue for an appeal

That set up a likely issue for an appeal because one of his witnesses cannot appear. Thieme refused a defense bid to delay sentencing for two months until she can.

That left attorneys scrambling yesterday to make arrangements for a videotaped deposition of the defense's social worker this morning so that jurors can view it later today.

The Baltimore social worker, Lori James, is confined to bed. Assistant public defender Rodney C. Warren believed an audio deposition would be fine if the judge was to sentence Ware, but strategically it would be important for jurors to see the witness.

"I understand the defendant has changed his trial strategy, and he is going to have to live with it," Thieme said, adding that appellate judges could overturn the case if they disagreed.

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