Judge orders killer's death

Baker to be executed for fatally shooting woman in 1991

Defense plans appeal

March 20, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Harford County judge signed a death warrant yesterday that orders Wesley Eugene Baker to be executed in May, almost 10 years after he was convicted of fatally shooting a 49-year-old grandmother outside Westview Mall.

Baker, 43, dressed in a gray prison uniform, showed no emotion as Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill announced his decision. But his lawyers said they will seek a reprieve from the state's top court.

Whitfill said that Baker has exhausted his appeals and that any order stopping his execution would have to come from the Maryland Court of Appeals.

"It seems to me my obligation at this point is to sign the warrant," Whitfill said.

Baker is scheduled to die by lethal injection sometime during the week that begins May 13, said Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst.

The date is determined by state prison officials.

Baker was convicted by a Harford County jury in 1992 of killing Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren in the parking lot of the Catonsville mall June 6, 1991. The case was transferred to Harford County at Baker's request.

A witness followed Baker's getaway car from the scene and reported the tag number to police.

Investigators found the murder weapon in the car and blood on Baker's pants when they arrested him a short time later.

Death penalty opponents vowed yesterday to wage a campaign to block Baker's execution.

"It becomes a clemency fight at this point," said Michael Stark, a spokesman for the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The state's top court granted a reprieve to Steven Howard Oken last month after his lawyer argued that it would be premature to execute Oken when the Supreme Court could rewrite its requirements for capital punishment later this year.

Gary Christopher, Baker's lawyer, said he will file papers in the next few days with the Court of Appeals seeking a reprieve for the same reason.

He said he will argue that the Supreme Court's impending ruling in an Arizona capital case could nullify Maryland's death statute.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Ring vs. Arizona next month and is expected to decide the case by the end of June, Christopher said.

Christopher said after the hearing that it would be unfair to execute Baker weeks before the Supreme Court comes out with its ruling.

"I certainly understand why the state would like to see him dead before that decision comes out, but it seems unfair to us," Christopher said.

But Brobst said yesterday that Whitfill made the right decision. She said the Supreme Court has rejected appeals from Oken and Baker and there is no way of knowing how it will rule in any future case.

"Keep in mind that neither Oken nor Baker has ever been reversed by any court," Brobst said.

Christopher and other defense lawyers say that the Supreme Court could strike down Maryland's death penalty statute because it requires judges and juries to find by a preponderance of the evidence that aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors at sentencing.

The Supreme Court ruled in October 2000 that a judge or jury must find that aggravating factors exist beyond a reasonable doubt, not just a preponderance of the evidence.

The ruling came in a case that focused on the enhanced penalty provisions of a New Jersey hate-crimes statute.

Christopher said that in Ring, the Supreme Court could apply the sentencing standard established in the New Jersey case to Maryland death penalty statutes.

But Brobst said the legal issue is whether death penalty defendants are entitled to be sentenced by juries. Maryland guarantees that right in capital cases, she said.

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