Murder convict asks judges for leniency in prison escape

Sentence hinders chance for parole, Lawrence says

January 28, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Gregory L. Lawrence asked a panel of judges yesterday to shave time off his six-year sentence for a movie-like prison escape last year, saying the added time would be an impediment to his hoped-for parole from a life term for murder -- or exoneration in the crime.

Lawrence, 39, of Baltimore told a three-judge Anne Arundel Circuit Court panel that he has been wrongly imprisoned since 1978 and that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's policy of denying parole to murderers has unfairly turned his life sentence into life without parole.

Lawrence and his cellmate, armed robber Byron Smoot, admitted climbing a fence and escaping from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup in May. Smoot's paramour, a one-time prison psychologist, pleaded guilty as an accessory after the fact for picking them up.

The justification offered by Lawrence for the escape was similar to the plea he made for leniency that failed to sway Judge Clayton Greene Jr. last month from tacking six years onto the life sentence imposed in 1978 for a Baltimore slaying.

"Mr. Lawrence wanted to earn money to hire an attorney to represent him on his post-conviction [murder] case," said his lawyer, Carroll L. McCabe.

Lawrence said he had grown frustrated because he believed his trial 22 years ago was constitutionally flawed, and his lawyer failed to follow his requests for post-trial challenges. He claimed he was innocent of the murder.

He added that nobody was guarding the prison fence.

That omission resulted in the firing of several prison guards and the reassignment of the warden and several others.

"You want this court to say that anybody who feels he is in jail unconstitutionally should be allowed to escape?" asked Judge Eugene M. Lerner.

The panel -- which also included Judges Philip R. Caroom and Robert H. Heller Jr. -- did not appear sympathetic yesterday, but the judges said they would consider Lawrence's request. They could increase the sentence to a maximum of 10 years. The decision is expected within a few weeks.

The judges also told Lawrence they could do nothing about his issues from the 1978 Baltimore case.

William D. Roessler, deputy state's attorney, objected to trimming the sentence for escape.

"This was not a walk-off from work release," he said, noting that two men convicted of violent crimes had climbed a fence to flee. The added six-year sentence was midway between the four and eight years recommended under state sentencing guidelines.

Lawrence is confined at the state's Supermax prison -- the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore.

Smoot had tried to justify his escape by saying he was blinded by love for former prison psychologist Elizabeth L. Feil -- an argument that did not dissuade Greene from adding eight years to his 29-year sentence for a 1995 string of armed robberies in the Glen Burnie area.

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