Aunt, social worker testify at murderer's sentencing

Ware said he won't speak in his defense at hearing

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 has 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 this month.

Testimony yesterday was remarkably low-key, compared to 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, growing up 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 fishing trips and popularity.

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. He met the man whose last name he bears in high school, after "his best friend said `My mother told me that's your father.' Mr. Ware did look like him," James-Monroe testified.

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.

After high school, Ware was conflicted over whether to attend college or join the military, partly because "he felt he wasn't smart enough to go to college," James-Monroe said.

He joined the Navy in 1989 and served on the U.S.S. Saratoga in Desert Storm. He came home often, and his mother demanded a suffocating amount of time -- so much that he took to secretly spending a few days with friends before arriving home, the social worker said. She also insisted on showing him off in his uniform, which embarrassed him, she said.

He regretted not attending college, James-Monroe said. Under cross-examination by assistant state's attorney Thomas J. Pryal, the social worker said Ware's mother had told her he could have received a scholarship to a local college.

Ware came to Maryland through an assignment at the National Security Agency, where he held a top-secret clearance and worked as a cryptologic technician. 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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