Md. appeals reversal of conviction for murder

Man faced death penalty in slaying of woman, 77

September 26, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state of Maryland filed notice yesterday that it will appeal the order of a federal judge that voided the murder conviction and death sentence of a man found guilty of drowning an elderly Baltimore County widow in her bathtub.

In a one-paragraph statement, the attorney general's office said it will appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the order issued last week by U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz on a petition for federal review by death-row inmate Kevin Wiggins.

Motz ruled in an order issued Sept. 18 that there was insufficient evidence to convict Wiggins of murder and that his lawyers did not adequately represent him at sentencing.

Because Wiggins had served time for his conviction on robbery and theft charges in the 1988 case, Motz ordered that the 40-year-old inmate would be released from prison unless the state appealed.

"I'm very, very disappointed" in the state's decision to appeal Motz's order, said Donald B. Verrilli Jr., Wiggins' lawyer.

Verrilli said he proposed that if the state did not appeal Motz' order, Wiggins would agree to spend additional time in jail and to be placed under court supervision after his release. He said state lawyers rejected the proposal.

Verrilli said he would likely oppose any motion by the state to have Wiggins remain in jail pending the decision by the 4th Circuit, which could take several months.

In August 1989, Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel found Wiggins guilty of murdering Florence G. Lacs, 77. In the sentencing phase of the case two months later, a jury imposed the death penalty on him.

According to court records, Wiggins was seen near Lacs' Woodlawn apartment the last day she was seen alive, and he and a girlfriend used Lacs' car and her credit cards to go on a shopping spree during the two days before her body was found, on Sept. 17, 1988.

But Motz said that Hinkel failed to give due weight to evidence that exonerated Wiggins, including that his fingerprints were not found in the apartment and unidentified fingerprints were found.

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