Ware's lawyer argues against conviction, death

He says jurors didn't get full explanation of terms in deciding sentencing

April 07, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The second conviction and death sentence of Darris A. Warein the killings of his former fiancee and one of her friends were argued yesterday before Maryland's highest court -- which had struck down the first verdict because of evidence withheld from his defense.

Assistant Public Defender Michael R. Braudes told judges of the Court of Appeals that jurors who convicted Ware the second time were not given a full explanation of terms as they took up the sentencing phase of the case and were unaware that the victims' families were against the death penalty.

Ware, a one-time Navy seaman and National Security Agency cryptologist who had wanted to become a state trooper, was convicted and sentenced for the slayings of Bettina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and her friend, Cynthia V. Allen, 22, in 1993 in Gentry's Severn home.

Death penalty cases are automatically appealed to the Court of Appeals, which overturned the first conviction in 1997 because prosecutors did not reveal that a key prosecution witness had a plea for reduction of a life sentence pending before a Baltimore County judge.

Ware was retried in Anne Arundel Circuit Court last year, and again sentenced to death. The jury did not hear that the victims' fathers opposed capital punishment out of concern that the case would be appealed and overturned again.

Braudes said the trial judge, Raymond G. Thieme Jr., should have given jurors a fuller explanation of the "youthful age" in his instructions on sentencing factors -- information that the public defender said might have given more weight to a social worker's characterization of Ware's childhood that included a difficult relationship with an alcoholic, drug-abusing mother.

"Youthful age" refers to maturity, not simply chronological age, Braudes said. "Instruction to the jury was clearly inadequate."

The victims' families' opposition to pursuing the death penalty should have been given at least as much weight as the victim impact statements, Braudes argued. "The jury may think the surviving family might feel better by a sentence of death when that was not the case at all."

But Annabelle L. Lisic, an assistant attorney general, told the court that youthful age was not relevant in this case. "Mr. Ware graduated high school, served in the military, was employed by NSA, and did not have a particularly dysfunctional family," Lisic said. "All these factors that might go into maturity did not apply."

She also said a family's wishes for sentencing are never discussed with jurors.

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