Arundel jury sentences man to death for murders

Father of one victim sees justice, but no joy

July 23, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A 28-year-old one-time Navy seaman who had wanted to became a Maryland state trooper was sentenced to death yesterday -- for a second time -- for the murders of his former fiancee and her friend.

Darris A. Ware stood stone-faced as somber jurors read a decision they reached after two tense hours of haggling and discussion in a jury room at the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court House. Theirs is the first jury-imposed death sentence in the county in more than 30 years, lawyers said. The only other sentences they might have chosen were life and life without the possibility of parole.

On Monday, the 10 men and two women convicted the former National Security Agency cryptologist who had a top-level security clearance of two counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 30, 1993, shootings of Betina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and her friend, Cynthia V. Allen, 22.

Relatives of the slain women were little comforted by the verdicts or the death sentence.

"Maybe justice has been served, but there is no healing for me and my family," said Gentry's father, Edward L. Gentry of Severn. "She was my youngest child, the only girl, my girl. There is no joy here, no healing."

Allen's father, Ramon Vega, waved away questions after the sentence was read, leaving the courthouse with his family.

This week, prosecutors had said both fathers opposed the death sentence because they feared it would be more likely that the case would be overturned a second time.

In testifying this week, the fathers said their daughters' slayings shattered what had been happy families and snuffed promising futures.

All death sentence cases are automatically appealed to Maryland's highest court.

After a Howard County jury sentenced Ware to die in 1995, the Court of Appeals erased his conviction in 1997 and ordered a retrial, chastising Anne Arundel's prosecutors for withholding from the defense crucial information about a prosecution witness.

The judges said the outcome of the trial might have been different if the defense knew to question the witness, a prisoner serving life for murder, about his pending quest for a sentence reduction.

Ware will return to the courtroom Monday when Court of Special Appeals Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., a former Anne Arundel Circuit judge presiding over the case, signs the death warrant and a stay of execution.

Under law, Ware's execution would be by lethal injection.

Ware can challenge the outcome in state and federal appeals that could take years, though recent Supreme Court rulings have restricted such appeals.

"This is a second beginning of a process; it's not the end of the road. We don't think death is justice in this case," said assistant public defender Rodney C. Warren, who had asked jurors to spare Ware's life.

He said Ware's aunt and step-grandmother, who watched yesterday's closing arguments, were "devastated" and returned to Florida immediately.

Ware, according to Warren, was confident about the decisions he made throughout the trial, which opened July 9. Ware went against his public defenders' advice several times, choosing not to testify, to have the jury sentence him and not to address the jury.

Several jurors said their decision, though relatively quick, was as wrenching as any they ever made.

"Not many of us slept very well last night," said Barbara Brown of Annapolis. "It is an experience that probably changes you forever. It is a profound experience."

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