Governor's ruling worries death-penalty supporters

Commuted sentence has some questioning fate of other convicts

June 10, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's decision to spare convicted killer Eugene Colvin-el this week has death-penalty supporters worried that the governor will commute other death sentences.

"It makes you ask, why bother seeking a death sentence if it takes so long and can be reversed in the end?" said Rick Prothero, a 47-year-old physical therapist.

Prothero's brother, Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, was slain during the robbery of a Pikesville jewelry store on Feb. 7. The father of five was working as a security guard at J. Brown Jewelers on Reisterstown Road when he was shot and killed as he chased four suspects outside the store during a daylight robbery.

Rick Prothero said yesterday that he is angry and disappointed at Glendening's decision to commute Colvin-el's death sentence to life without parole. It makes him reluctant to push for the death penalty for his brother's alleged killers, who are slated to be tried this year, he said.

"My personal feeling is if you have laws on the books out there, you should enforce the laws," Prothero said. "Why go through the process of a trial and all the appeals if in the end you're just going to throw it out?"

Charles Poehlman, whose daughter was murdered in 1998, said he hates the idea that her killer, John A. Miller IV, might have hopes of avoiding execution. Miller, 27, was sentenced to death Feb. 9 for strangling Shen D. Poehlman in 1998.

"The governor shouldn't have that power. He's one man; he's not God," Poehlman said.

Glendening said that he based his decision solely on the evidence in Colvin-el's case and that he sees nothing wrong with the state's death-penalty process.

"As I reviewed this case I did not see constitutional process or system issues. I did not see issues of racial discrimination," Glendening told reporters when he announced the decision Wednesday.

Death-penalty opponents say they will continue to push for a moratorium on all executions, saying the death penalty unfairly targets minorities.

Prosecutors say that they consider the wishes of the victim's relatives carefully when deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor, whose office has prosecuted 10 of the 17inmates on death row, said her office seeks the death penalty in every case that meets state requirements. But she does not seek it if the victim's family prefers a sentence of life or life without parole.

Prothero said he has had brief conversations with Baltimore County prosecutors, who are weighing a possible death penalty against two of the four defendants charged in the officer's slaying.

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. Prosecutors have told lawyers for Troy White and Donald Antonio White, who are not related, that they are facing maximum sentences of life without parole. But they are weighing the death penalty for the Moores.

Troy White admitted participating in the robbery when he was arrested in February, according to court records. White identified Richard Antonio Moore as the shooter, according to court records. No trial date has been set.

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