Prosecutor to push for execution

Judge will be asked to sign death warrant in 1991 mall murder

`It's time,' O'Connor says

Baker's lawyer to ask for delay

fairness of law, trial questioned

March 18, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County prosecutors say that if anyone belongs on Maryland's death row, it's Wesley Eugene Baker.

Baker, 43, of Baltimore was convicted of shooting Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren during a robbery outside Westview Mall in 1991. A witness saw him leave the scene, followed the getaway car, a Chevrolet Blazer, and gave police the tag number.

When police arrested Baker a short time later, they found blood on his jeans and the murder weapon in the Blazer. They also found Baker's fingerprints on Tyson's Buick.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor is prepared to ask a Circuit Court judge tomorrow to sign a death warrant and schedule Baker's execution. If the warrant is signed, Baker could be put to death in the spring. His would be the state's first execution since 1998.

O'Connor said that after 10 years of appellate court reviews, Baker has exhausted his appeals.

"The legal system offers a defendant numerous avenues of appeal. They've been exhausted, and everything that was supposed to be done has been done in this case, so it's time," said O'Connor, who prosecuted Baker.

A month ago, the Maryland Court of Appeals granted a reprieve to Steven Howard Oken, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection this month. Oken, whose death warrant was signed Jan. 15 by Baltimore County Circuit Chief Judge John G. Turnbull II, was convicted in the killings of three women. He was sentenced to die for the shooting death of a White Marsh newlywed.

The state's top court granted Oken a stay by a 6-1 vote after his lawyer argued that it would be premature to execute him when the Supreme Court is about to re-examine the death penalty. The Supreme Court could rewrite its death penalty requirements when it rules on an Arizona capital case this year, said Oken's lawyer, Fred W. Bennett.

Gary Christopher, Baker's lawyer, said he will ask Harford County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill to postpone Baker's execution for the same reason that the Court of Appeals delayed Oken's. Baker's case was transferred to Harford County in 1991 at the defendant's request.

"I don't think our position is any different than the position Mr. Oken was in when he was granted a stay," Christopher said. "I think Mr. Baker stands in the same shoes as Mr. Oken, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be granted a stay when he was given one."

As prosecutors and defense lawyers prepare their arguments, death penalty opponents say that Baker's case raises questions about the fairness of the state's death penalty law.

"There's no way they should be even thinking about executing Wesley Baker at this point," said Michael Stark, a spokesman for the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Stark and other death penalty opponents say the case fits a pattern in Maryland because Baker is a black defendant sentenced to die for murdering a white victim in a county known for aggressively seeking the death penalty.

Nine of the 13 inmates on death row in Maryland were convicted of Baltimore County murders, and nine are black, according to state records. Of the 17 people killed by death row inmates, 15 were white, records show.

Stark and other death penalty opponents also argue that Gregory Lawrence, the driver of the Chevy Blazer that was used as a getaway car, could have shot Tyson.

Baker has admitted being with Lawrence the night of the murder but denies shooting Tyson, according to information distributed by death penalty opponents.

Lawrence, 45, of Woodlawn was convicted of felony murder and a handgun violation. He was sentenced in 1992 to life in prison for the murder and a consecutive 20 years for the handgun violation.

A Harford County jury convicted Baker as the shooter in 1992 based on witnesses' testimony that they saw him jump into the Blazer's passenger seat after shooting Tyson. Evidence was presented that only Baker had blood on his clothes when police stopped the Blazer at Cooks Lane and Edmondson Avenue in Baltimore.

Baker's supporters say he was denied a fair trial because jurors never heard about his "extremely abusive" childhood.

The state's highest court rejected arguments last month that Baker's trial was unfair. Court records also show that Baker refused to speak on his behalf or present evidence about himself or his childhood when asked by Whitfill at sentencing in 1992.

Whitfill told Baker when he sentenced him to death: "This was as helpless a victim as could possibly have existed. When we cannot take our grandchildren shopping without the risk that someone will blow our brains away for the sake of our wallet or our purse, we have a problem."

Tyson, 49, an instructional assistant at Riverview Elementary School, went to Westview Mall on June 6, 1991, to buy shoes for two of her six grandchildren, Adam Sulewski, 6, and his sister, Carly, 4.

"She bought the shoes. That was her thing, to buy the shoes for the grandchildren," her husband, John N. Tyson, told Whitfill at Baker's sentencing.

Karen Sulewski, one of Mrs. Tyson's three daughters, said this month that her mother's murder devastated the family.

"I miss her," Sulewski said. "Every single day I think of her, and that's never going to go away."

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