Sentencing law eyed in killing of officer

Prothero case spurs review of '98 measure allowing death penalty

February 22, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Turning to a state law passed in 1998 but never used, Baltimore County prosecutors might seek the death penalty against all four men charged in the killing of police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said her office is reviewing the statute, which allows the death penalty to be imposed against defendants accused in a crime that leads to the killing of a police officer.

"We're certainly looking at the law to see if any of the defendants would be eligible," O'Connor said.

Richard Antonio Moore, 29; Wesley John Moore, 24; Troy White, 25; and Donald Antonio White, 19 -- all of Baltimore -- have been charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the death of Prothero, a father of five who was shot as he chased four men from a Pikesville jewelry store.

The Whites, who are not related, were arrested within days of the killing and are being held without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center.

The Moore brothers were arrested Saturday at a relative's house in North Philadelphia after a manhunt.

Prosecutors said yesterday that the law, passed in response to the killings of two state troopers in separate highway stops, might not apply to the defendants in the Prothero slaying.

"We really have to carefully look at the statute and see if it would apply, if at all," said S. Ann Brobst, an assistant state's attorney.

The law requires that for prosecutors to seek the death penalty, they must be able to show that the defendant "willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation" caused the officer's death.

Police said they are trying to piece together the events that led to Prothero's death.

In a statement of charges filed by police Feb. 9, when they arrested Donald Antonio White, Troy White said neither he nor Donald White was armed on the day of the robbery. Troy White said Richard Antonio Moore was the gunman.

Extradition hearing

An extradition hearing for the Moores is scheduled for March 6. If they waive extradition, they could be returned to Maryland immediately, prosecutors said.

If the Moores fight extradition -- a legal process requiring the state to prove the identity of the suspects -- Maryland prosecutors must apply for a special warrant through the governor's office and argue for extradition at a hearing 30 days later.

Legal experts say extradition is a technicality that could delay the defendants' transfer to Maryland but that their return for trial is inevitable.

"The state has to show that the person who they've locked up is the right person and that the arrest warrant has been legally issued," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, a defense lawyer who has handled extradition cases.

Prosecutors say they might not decide whether to seek the death penalty until several weeks after the Moores are returned to Maryland.

Until 1998, state prosecutors could not seek the death penalty in the killings of police officers unless the defendant had been accused of inflicting the fatal wound.

The 1998 law, enacted in response to the killings of Cpl. Theodore Wolf in Howard County in 1991 and Tfc. Edward A. Plank Jr. in Somerset County in 1995, was intended to stiffen penalties for those involved in a crime in which an officer is killed, said 1st Sgt. Bernie Shaw, legislative liaison for the state police.

Strong support

Shaw said the bill received strong support because of concerns about the relatively lenient sentences given the co-defendants in the killings. Francisco Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Wolf, was sentenced to 15 years. William Lynch was convicted on drug and handgun charges in the Plank killing and sentenced to 20 years.

Advocacy groups for police officers said yesterday that they strongly support the law and would like to see the death penalty sought in the Prothero slaying.

"Being a police officer is extremely hazardous, and it's important for the criminal element to know that killing a police officer carries the harshest possible penalty," said Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which represents county officers.

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