Jury hears from defense at hearing

Arundel man could get death for two murders

July 22, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Killer Darris A. Ware began fighting for his life yesterday, bringing in his aunt, a social worker and jail counselors to tell Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jurors who will sentence him that the two murders they convicted him of were an aberration.

"We can't judge the appropriate punishment just on what happened on Dec. 30, 1993," assistant public defender John Gunning told the 10 men and two women.

That is the day Ware, 28, a former Navy seaman, fatally shot his ex-fiancee, Betina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and her friend, Cynthia V. Allen, 22, in the Gentry home in Severn. The jury convicted him Monday of two counts of first-degree murder, each of which carries a minimum life sentence. Now they are being asked to weigh the murders against factors that might lead them to spare his life.

Ware, who has had disagreements with his attorneys, said yesterday he will not speak in his defense today before the jury is to decide among life, life without parole and execution.

In 1995, a Howard County jury convicted him and sentenced him to death, but the Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 1997, leading to a retrial.

Testimony yesterday was low-key compared with emotion-laden testimony Tuesday from the fathers of the slain women. The victims' families were absent from the courtroom, with the exception of Allen's father, Ramon Vega.

Ware had a trouble-free childhood in Fort Pierce, Fla., with a younger brother and two cousins, said his aunt, Cindia Patterson.

He was a good student and part of a close-knit family, she said.

"We did everything together," she said. The four children were like "four legs of a table," she said.

But in a videotaped deposition, social worker Lori James-Monroe said Ware's childhood was not all enjoyable.

She said his mother, Janie Knight, was an alcoholic and drug abuser. A fight with her husband left her so badly beaten she suffered a miscarriage.

The identity of Ware's father was in question, as his mother had told Ware she was pregnant by one man but was angry at him and listed someone else on the birth certificate. A third man, Ralph Knight, who married his mother, assumed the role of Ware's father.

After his early years, Ware had no contact until high school with the man his mother said was his biological father.

Ware's mother, who reassured him during his first trial, died last year of complications of cirrhosis of the liver, the virus that causes AIDS and hepatitis.

In 1989, after high school, Ware joined the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Saratoga in Desert Storm.

He was honorably discharged in August 1993, and had an application pending with the Maryland State Police at the time of the murders.

His stays at the county jail were marked by cooperation and helpfulness to the guards, two counselors testified.

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