Anne Arundel County prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a Glen Burnie man accused in the slayings of his landlady and her daughter-in-law in January, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said yesterday.
No trial date has been set for Kenneth E. Abend, 39, charged in the fatal shootings of Laverne M. Browning, 70, and Tamie C. Browning, 36, both of Glen Burnie, whose bodies were found in the trunk of a car Jan. 14.
Weathersbee announced the decision two weeks after Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced a one-year moratorium on executions pending the results of a University of Maryland study on whether the death penalty is applied fairly. The study is to be completed in September and reviewed by state officials and the 2003 General Assembly.
"I can't change what we do in regard to the law," said Weathersbee, who plans to file paperwork in the Abend case today. "I can't just stop because the governor says, `I'm going to wait.' He can wait, but the case has to be tried."
Gary E. Bair, chief of criminal appeals for the Maryland attorney general's office, said that because a decade might pass before a death penalty case reaches execution, the moratorium has no effect on cases just starting.
Death penalty opponents were disappointed by Weathersbee's decision. "It pains me. At the point where we are looking at how the death penalty gets sought, I would hope that state's attorneys would proceed a little more cautiously," said Jane Henderson, co-director of the Prince George's County-based Quixote Center, a social justice advocacy group.
In seeking the death penalty, Weathersbee said he considers such factors as aggravating circumstances - multiple murder and sexual assault, in this case - along with the views of victim's survivors and mitigating circumstances presented by the defense.
In the Abend case, he said, the Brownings' relatives and Abend's lawyer spoke with prosecutors. The family could not be reached yesterday, and Weathersbee would not disclose what the relatives said.
Defense lawyer Harry J. Trainor Jr. said he was sorry that Abend's case was becoming a capital case in part because he believes that the study results and moratorium will lead to change in the death penalty laws. "It is very likely that the death penalty in Maryland as we know it, if it exists at all after the moratorium, will be significantly different than it is now," he said.
Trainor declined to discuss the mitigating information he gave to prosecutors about his client.
The defendant and victims are white. But Weathersbee said the case is like two other cases, also double murders, in which his office sought the death penalty for black defendants.
Scotland E. Williams, who is black, was convicted of killing and robbing two white attorneys in their home outside Annapolis in 1994. His first conviction and death sentence were overturned, and he was sentenced to life in prison in a 1998 retrial.
Darris Ware, also black, is the county's only death-row inmate, convicted of slaying his ex-girlfriend and one of her friends in 1993. His first conviction and death sentence were overturned, but in 1999 a second jury convicted and sentenced him to die. Of the 13 death-row inmates, Ware is the only one whose victims were black.
Weathersbee's office also is seeking the death penalty in the case of inmate John Ashby, charged with killing another prisoner at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup.