Md. moratorium unlikely to block death penalty

Trial of adult suspect is expected to finish after study completed

Search For The Sniper

October 26, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Maryland's death penalty moratorium would not prevent one of the Washington-area sniper suspects from being executed if the statute is deemed appropriate for the crimes, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday.

The 5-month-old moratorium "will not have any impact on the resolution of this," Glendening told reporters, referring to the prosecution of the six sniper killings that occurred in Maryland.

Glendening halted executions in May as four death warrants were making their way to his desk for review. He pledged not to approve any executions before a study could be completed on whether racial bias exists in the state's death penalty application.

The study by University of Maryland criminology Professor Raymond Paternoster is on track to be finished by the end of the year, the university said yesterday. Attorneys say the trials and appeal process of the two suspects will not be completed by that time.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said yesterday that one of the suspects, Lee Boyd Malvo, 17, could not be executed in Maryland because he is a juvenile. But the other suspect, John Allen Muhammad, 41, would be eligible. Both were being charged with six counts of first-degree murder.

The fate of the death penalty moratorium will rest with the next governor and with the General Assembly.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic candidate for governor, supports capital punishment "in heinous cases, and, if convicted, this [the sniper killings] would certainly qualify for that. It would be absolutely appropriate," said spokeswoman Kate Phillips.

Like Glendening, Townsend supports the moratorium. But, if elected, she wouldn't extend the hold to cover new death warrants - only existing ones, said Phillips.

If the university study raises questions about the fairness of the death penalty's use, then "appropriate adjustments would be made" without scrapping capital punishment in the state, Phillips said.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican candidate, also backs the death penalty and said on the campaign trail yesterday that the sniper case and a recent Baltimore firebombing seemed egregious enough to warrant the death penalty. The firebombing case involves a 21-year-old East Baltimore man who police said was angry with a neighbor for reporting drug activity; the suspect is charged with arson and six counts of murder in a fire that killed a woman and her five children. Her husband died a week later of injuries he received in the fire.

Ehrlich chided Townsend yesterday for her support of the moratorium, saying, "You can't have it both ways."

However, it's not certain that Maryland's death penalty statute would even apply in the sniper case, in which 10 people were killed and three wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

The statute requires those convicted to meet at least one of 10 aggravating circumstances. The best fit seems to be one requiring that more than one murder arise "out of the same incident."

On Oct. 3, four of the sniper victims were gunned down during the morning rush hour in the same part of Montgomery County. It would be up to a court to decide whether those killings would trigger the death penalty.

Sun staff writers Sarah Koenig and Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.

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