Timing of death penalty halt reveals governor's true motive

May 15, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

SO LET'S get this straight: On the evening of June 6, 1991, one Wesley Baker walked up to Jane Frances Tyson as she sat in her car. Tyson had just finished shopping in the Westview Mall. Her grandchildren, a 6-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, were with her in the car.

Baker demanded Tyson's purse and then, in full view of the little ones, shot her in the head. Baker grabbed Tyson's purse and ran to a nearby Chevy Blazer driven by his cohort, Gregory Lawrence. Baltimore County police caught the pair a short time later. Lawrence was later convicted of felony murder and a handgun violation and sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years.

It is as coldhearted and heinous a crime as has ever been committed in this neck of the woods. But to hear death penalty opponents and bleeding hearts tell it, Baker, not Tyson, is the victim. Baker, not Tyson's surviving relatives, deserve our sympathy.

Baker was convicted of murdering Tyson and sentenced to death. He was scheduled to be strapped to a table and given a lethal injection last week. It would have been a death far more merciful and kind than the one he gave Tyson. But the bleeding hearts wouldn't hear of it. They lobbied for his life, using a blatantly racist appeal that because Baker was poor and black and Tyson white, his death sentence was "unfair."

On Thursday, Gov. Parris Glendening accommodated the bleeding hearts by issuing a moratorium on the death penalty in Maryland. Justice is thus delayed in the matter of Tyson and Baker. Glendening is supported by his lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Opponents of the moratorium suspect that neither Glendening nor Townsend has read the June 7, 1991, edition of The Evening Sun, from which the above details about Tyson's execution on the streets of Baltimore County were taken.

But Bob Adams has read it. The details of Tyson's murder left him livid. He was angrier still that Baker's execution has been delayed. Adams is a Republican candidate running for the House of Delegates from Maryland's 13th District, which includes parts of Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

Adams, just a month shy of his 33rd birthday, lives in Columbia and commutes to Washington, where he works for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a bipartisan group of state legislators. Adams says the moratorium is not about fairness or justice in imposing the death penalty. It's about politics. The moratorium inspired Adams to send out a direct mailing to voters with the 1991 Evening Sun article about Tyson's murder attached. Here are some excerpts from the letter:

"One can disagree about the morality of the death penalty," Adams wrote. "It's a debatable issue. I happen to be in favor of it. But what's never debatable is applying the death penalty as a political weapon. ... That's what happened last week. ... They say `racism' could be the inherent reason poor convicted killer Wesley Baker received the sentence of death for his crime. But the truth is this absolutely has nothing to do with civil rights, racism or any sort of prejudicial bias. It's about Kathleen Townsend becoming governor."

That's exactly what this "moratorium" is about. The timing of Glendening's "noble" announcement simply does not pass the smell test. Glendening could have imposed the moratorium at any time during his eight years as governor. Anti-death penalty legislators and activists have been urging him to do precisely that for at least two years, probably more. Somehow, the governor's conscience on the matter isn't piqued until an election year, and just four days after Townsend officially announced her candidacy.

Adams is one of several who believe Glendening imposed the moratorium at Townsend's request, that this whole farce is her 2002 version of playing the "race card" the Democrats played in the 1998 smear campaign against Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey.

"It's a get out the vote effort," Adams wrote in his letter. "It's Townsend's way of saying that anyone who opposes her moratorium has a `shameful record on civil rights.'"

We all knew the Democrats would play a race card in the gubernatorial contest. We just didn't know when and how. Nor could we even suspect it would be this shameless. The Democrats might have forgotten Tyson and her loved ones who still mourn her, but Adams hasn't.

"I can't even tell you how sick to my stomach it makes me feel," Adams said Monday night from his Columbia home. "I can't believe Glendening and Townsend read the same [June 7, 1991, Evening Sun] article."

Here's something just as hard to believe: Glendening and Townsend, with their moratorium, have made murdering thug Wesley Baker the poster boy for racial injustice.

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