Death warrant sought in 1991 case

Prosecutors undeterred by recent court ruling

February 13, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A week after a ruling that was seen as a reprieve to some death row inmates, Baltimore County prosecutors are asking a Circuit Court judge to approve the execution this spring of Wesley Eugene Baker, who fatally shot a 49-year-old grandmother at Westview Mall.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said that she and Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst are writing to the judge who sentenced Baker in 1992 to ask how he wants to proceed on their request for a death warrant.

Their decision occurs a week after Steven Howard Oken, who was scheduled to die next month, won a stay of execution from the Court of Appeals to give his lawyers time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That ruling was widely seen as a tool for lawyers of other death row inmates seeking to delay executions. But O'Connor said the issues raised by Oken's lawyer regarding the legal burdens for prosecutors at sentencing do not apply to Baker's case.

Baker's claims that he was denied a fair trial and that the state's death statute is unconstitutional were rejected Thursday by the Court of Appeals.

O'Connor said her letter asks Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill whether he wants to await receipt of formal notice - due next month - that the appeals court rejected Baker's claims before he considers signing the warrant.

O'Connor said yesterday that she is providing Baker's lawyers with a copy of the letter to ensure they are formally notified of her plans to seek the death warrant.

"We want to make sure our intent is clear to all of the parties on everything that we do in this case," said O'Connor, who with Brobst prosecuted Baker in 1992.

Baker's lawyer, Gary W. Christopher, said he has written to Whitfill arguing that it is too soon to sign the death warrant because appeals are pending. Christopher said he has filed papers asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its Feb. 7 ruling rejecting Baker's claims. He also plans to seek a review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Baker was convicted by a Harford County jury in the June 6, 1991, shooting death of Jane Tyson, who had gone to the mall with her 6-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter to buy a pair of shoes. The trial was transferred to Harford County at Baker's request.

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