Lawyers for death-row inmate seek delay in execution

Pending high court ruling noted in Baker request

March 23, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for death-row inmate Wesley Eugene Baker asked the state's highest court yesterday to delay his May execution until the U.S. Supreme Court rules this year in a closely watched capital case.

The Supreme Court could rewrite the nation's death penalty requirements when it rules in the Arizona case in June, Baker's lawyers said.

Baker, convicted in the 1991 killing in Baltimore County of a 49-year-old grandmother, is scheduled to die by lethal injection during the week of May 13. The exact date will be set by state prison officials.

A Circuit Court judge signed his death warrant Tuesday.

Baker, 43, became the second death row inmate this year to have a death warrant signed and an execution scheduled after exhausting the appeals guaranteed in Maryland capital cases.

Steven Howard Oken was scheduled to be executed this month. But on Feb. 6, the Court of Appeals voted 6-1 to postpone the execution after his lawyers argued that the Supreme Court could strike down Maryland's death penalty statute when it rules in the case of Ring vs. Arizona.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Ring on April 22 and is expected to rule before the end of its spring term, June 28.

In papers filed yesterday with the Court of Appeals, Baker's lawyers said that Baker is just as entitled to a postponement as Oken.

"We think they should grant a stay to Mr. Baker for the same reason they granted one to Mr. Oken," said Gary Christopher, one of the lawyers.

Assistant Attorney General Gary Bair, head of the criminal appeals division, said that the postponement request was expected, and that his office will ask the appeals court to deny it.

The state's written response is due March 29.

Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, who signed the death warrant for Baker, had sentenced Baker to death in 1992 after a jury convicted him of fatally shooting Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren during a robbery outside the Westview Mall on June 6, 1991. The trial was moved out of Baltimore County at Baker's request.

The last inmate executed in Maryland was Tyrone Gilliam, who died by lethal injection in 1998 for kidnapping and fatally shooting Christine J. Doerfler during a robbery that netted $3.

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