Colvin-el's lawyers file petition asking governor to stop execution

They say case is weak and that race played role

May 16, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Condemned killer Eugene Colvin-el asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to spare his life arguing in a clemency petition that the case against him is weak, that race played a role in his conviction and that Maryland's death penalty targets blacks.

Colvin-el, who is black, was sentenced to death for the stabbing death Sept. 9, 1980, of an 82-year-old woman during a break-in at her daughter's Pikesville home.

The clemency petition filed by Colvin-el's lawyers asks Glendening to stop the execution, scheduled for mid-June, because neither of the two pieces of evidence linking him to the murder proves that he entered the house where it occurred.

"The proof against him is the most questionable of any case offered against anyone convicted of murder in Maryland and sentenced to die" since the state reinstituted capital punishment 22 years ago, the petition said.

Michael Morrill, Glendening's press secretary, said the governor will review Colvin-el's 65-page clemency petition, along with the court record, Colvin-el's criminal history and any material provided by lawyers and families of the victim and defendant.

"He will personally, thoroughly review the petition," Morrill said.

Glendening refused clemency to Flint Gregory Hunt in 1997 and Tyrone Gilliam in 1998.

Colvin-el was convicted of killing Lena Buckman of Cocoa Beach, Fla. She was stabbed 28 times shortly after she arrived at the home to celebrate the Jewish high holidays.

According to testimony at the trial, Colvin-el's fingerprint was found on glass broken from a basement door through which police said he entered the house.

He also pawned two watches stolen from the home in the 6800 block of Cherokee Drive.

The petition notes that the fingerprint was found on a glass shard outside the house, that the jewelry was pawned eight days after the murder and that jewelry was scattered outside the house on the day of the crime.

"There was no evidence directly placing him inside the dwelling where the killing occurred," according to the petition filed by lawyers John H. Morris Jr. and Jose Felipe Anderson.

Twice sentenced

Colvin-el was sentenced to death by two Anne Arundel Circuit Court juries, one in 1981 and one convened in 1992 after a second sentencing hearing was ordered.

The first jury was all white, and the second had one black juror, the petition says.

The petition notes that of the four black judges who reviewed the case at state and federal levels, three voted to vacate the death sentence, including Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

Bell wrote in a dissenting opinion in 1993 that there was insufficient evidence to affirm the death penalty.

The lone black judge to affirm the death sentence was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Race is all over this case. It cannot be denied," the petition states.

Penalty called biased

The petition also says that there are a disproportionate number of minorities on Maryland's death row -- 12 of 17 -- and that death sentences are more often imposed on those who kill white victims.

Death penalty opponents have called on Glendening to spare Colvin-el and impose a moratorium on all executions, arguing that the death penalty process is racially biased.

State Del. Salima S. Marriott, a West Baltimore Democrat, introduced a bill this year proposing a moratorium, but it failed to win approval from a key House committee.

Glendening has funded a $225,000 study to explore whether racial bias is a factor in Maryland's death penalty.

The petition says it makes no sense to execute Colvin-el before the study is completed.

"To proceed with the execution in this particular case is simply to say that the outcome of the study does not matter," the petition says.

Morrill said the study involves a review of the overall death penalty issue and is separate from Colvin-el's clemency petition.

Colvin-el's petition also notes that although far more blacks than whites are killed each year, death row inmates are far more likely to have murdered white victims.

Of the 1,168 homicide victims statewide in 1995 and 1996, 243, or 21 percent, were white, according to the petition. Of the 22 victims who died at the hands of death row inmates, 15 were white and seven were black, according to state statistics.

The petition also notes that Colvin-el did not get along with his court-appointed lawyer, Robert Payne, who had tried "one or two" criminal jury trials before he took the case.

Payne, who has since died, tried to withdraw from the case, but E. Mackall Childs, then an Anne Arundel circuit judge, required him to remain, according to court records.

The petition states that Colvin-el tried to fire Payne twice before his 1981 trial and that Payne failed to investigate reports that other possible suspects had been seen in the neighborhood at the time of the killing.

Colvin-el's execution is scheduled for the week of June 12. The exact date has yet to be determined by state correction officials.

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