Baltimore County prosecutors will go to court today to argue for a death sentence in a killing in Loch Raven - the first capital case to reach a county courtroom since Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions in May.
John K. Surdi, 53, of no known address is one of three Baltimore County defendants - and one of four statewide - who could be sentenced to death after the recommendations of a state-funded study of capital punishment are released in the fall.
Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions May 9, saying he was concerned about racial and geographic disparities in the way the death penalty is imposed and wanted to await the results of a University of Maryland study before allowing executions to resume. Nine of the 14 inmates on death row are black, and nine are from Baltimore County.
The study, due to be released in September, is expected to lead to calls for amending or abolishing the law.
Surdi is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his sister's live-in boyfriend Nov. 21 in her home in the 8500 block of Oak Road in Loch Raven. Police say Surdi was angry because the victim had ordered him to move out.
Surdi, who was released from prison in January of last year after serving a 21-year sentence for second-degree murder, told police that he decided to shoot Robert Timlin, 44, that day because it was the anniversary of his last killing, according to court documents.
Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst and Public Defender Laura L. Murry declined to discuss the case yesterday.
But Murry has filed motions with Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan arguing that Surdi's confession should be ruled inadmissible and that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
Pretrial motions are scheduled to run for two days. No trial date has been set.
Criminal defense lawyers are not surprised that county prosecutors continue to seek death sentences despite the moratorium on executions imposed May 9. State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor has sought the death penalty in every case that meets the state's legal requirements for the past 20 years.
"I'm against the death penalty, period," said Fred W. Bennett, a Rockville lawyer who represents several death row inmates. "But if I were a prosecutor, I could probably say there's a reasonable basis for proceeding along the same course as long as the [death penalty] law is still on the books."
But legal experts also say that the state's death penalty law could be amended by state legislators or thrown out by a court ruling.
Bennett has filed motions with the Supreme Court and the state's highest court arguing that Maryland's death statute fails to meet the constitutional standards established by a Supreme Court decision June 24 that struck down an Arizona capital punishment law.
Maryland prosecutors say the ruling in Ring vs. Arizona does not apply to the state's law.
Surdi's case is one of three capital cases pending in the county and one of four statewide, according to Katy O'Donnell, chief of the capital defense division of the Office of the Public Defender, which handles the state's death cases.
Baltimore County prosecutors also are seeking the death penalty against Wesley Rollins, 55, and Douglas Starliper, 22. Anne Arundel County prosecutors are seeking it against Kenneth E. Abend, 39.
Abend is accused of killing his landlady and her daughter-in-law in January.
Rollins is charged with smothering a woman with a pillow during a burglary at her home in October in Catonsville, and Starliper is charged with fatally shooting two acquaintances in the parking lot of a Woodlawn apartment complex in July of last year.
Trial dates in two cases
Court records show that Rollins' trial is scheduled Sept. 4 and Starliper's Sept. 9.
Abend's trial is tentatively set for next summer in Annapolis, O'Donnell said.
Charging documents in Surdi's case say that his sister told police that Surdi pushed his way into her home, went up to Timlin's bedroom and shot him in the abdomen while he was asleep. Surdi also threatened to shoot him again if the sister, Dawn Surdi, didn't give him money, the documents say.
She told police that Surdi was angry because Timlin had ordered him out of the house for using cocaine, according to county police.
Police stopped Surdi in his pickup truck on Chinquapin Parkway in North Baltimore shortly after the shooting and found in the vehicle a .20 gauge shotgun that they believe was used in the killing, the statement of charges said.
Surdi also confessed, telling police that he lived nine months with his sister before Timlin moved in and "put him out of the house," according to the statement.
He told police that he had been staying with another relative since then but had no permanent address.