Critics lobbying to stop execution

Wesley Eugene Baker set to die this month in killing of a grandmother

Death penalty study awaited

May 04, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Death penalty opponents are lobbying in Annapolis as part of a statewide effort to persuade Gov. Parris N. Glendening to stop this month's execution of Wesley Eugene Baker for the 1991 murder of a grandmother at Westview Mall.

Baker, 44, is scheduled to die the week of May 13 for the shooting death of Jane Tyson outside the mall as her two grandchildren watched. The date for the execution has not been set by state corrections officials.

Attorneys for Baker, whose death warrant was signed in March, are seeking reviews by the Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals and plan to file a clemency petition with Glendening early next week.

Death penalty opponents said they are asking Glendening to grant a reprieve until a University of Maryland study examining the death penalty is completed in September.

"What we're trying to do is create a politically safe space for the governor to do the right thing," said Stephanie Gibson, a spokeswoman for Maryland Coalition Against State Executions.

A group of death penalty opponents met with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend last week and has sent notices to thousands of people asking them to telephone and e-mail Glendening's office to urge him to stop the execution.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure the governor has been feeling the pressure," said Jane Henderson, who met with Townsend and is executive director of Equal Justice USA, a group opposed to capital punishment.

Michelle Byrnie, a Glendening spokeswoman, said the governor has not met with death penalty supporters or opponents, but will review the case when Baker's attorneys submit their clemency petition next week.

William R. Mann, Townsend's assistant chief of staff, confirmed that she favors halting executions until the University of Maryland study is completed and has discussed her position with Glendening.

Townsend, who is planning to launch her candidacy for governor tomorrow, supports the death penalty but is concerned that the study could include some of the 85 recommendations in an Illinois death penalty study released last month, Mann said.

"Her feeling is that, after her review of the Illinois study and the fact that we have our own study coming out, a moratorium is an appropriate step at this point," Mann said.

Calls for a moratorium come as the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated this week the death sentence of another death row inmate, Kevin Wiggins.

A federal judge in Baltimore voided Wiggins' conviction and death sentence in the fall, saying neither a rational judge nor jury could have found Wiggins guilty based on the state's largely circumstantial case in the 1988 drowning of Florence Lacs, an elderly Woodlawn woman.

An appeals panel reversed that decision Thursday, though two of the three judges on the panel noted concerns about the case. Defense attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. of Washington said yesterday that he would appeal the judges' decision.

Death penalty opponents also plan to unveil a billboard Monday at Howard Street and North Avenue in Baltimore that advertises an anti-death penalty Web site and calls for an end to capital punishment.

Michael Stark, a spokesman for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said he hopes the $5,000 billboard along with the telephone and e-mail campaign will galvanize support. The group also sponsored a march April 27 from Cain Field on East Monument Street to the Maryland Penitentiary, where executions are done.

Stark and other death penalty opponents said Baker's case represents the racial disparities that are so disturbing about the death penalty. Baker is African-American, and Tyson was white. Critics say a disproportionate number of death row inmates are African-Americans who killed white victims.

Nine of the 13 inmates on Maryland's death row are black, and all but one of the 13 inmates were sentenced for killing white victims.

Dwight Sullivan, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is calling for a moratorium on executions, said concerns about racial disparities coupled with the timing of the University of Maryland study have some people optimistic about Baker's chances for a reprieve.

"We know the governor's very concerned about discrimination, and we hope the question as to whether there's been discrimination at least merits a four-month delay to see if the study shows a pattern of discrimination," Sullivan said.

State law gives Glendening broad clemency powers that allow him to commute a death sentence or "delay an execution for any period he sees fit," Sullivan said.

The Court of Appeals rejected a request by Baker's attorneys to postpone the execution by a 6-1 vote yesterday. Judge Robert M. Bell dissented.

But Stuart Robinson, one of Baker's attorneys, filed a new motion yesterday, asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider Baker's case based on arguments that the judge who sentenced him, Harford County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, lacked jurisdiction.

Baker's attorneys also are seeking a review by the Supreme Court and plan to file with Glendening a clemency petition and a request to postpone Baker's execution until the study is completed.

Glendening commuted Eugene Colvin-el's death sentence to life without parole a week before his scheduled execution in June 2000 but refused requests from other inmates.

Tyrone X. Gilliam was executed in 1998 for the murder of Christine J. Doerfler, 21, a hardware store accountant who was killed in a robbery that netted $3. Flint Gregory Hunt was executed in 1997 for the killing of Vincent J. Adolfo, a Baltimore police officer.

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this article.

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