Jessamy may try for death penalty

Trial in detective's killing would be second attempt at capital case in 8 years

March 05, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who has pursued the death penalty once in her eight years in office, appears to be preparing a capital case against the men who are charged with the execution-style killing of a police detective last year.

Jessamy has not announced whether she will seek the death penalty, though she has made several moves that indicate she is leaning that way for at least two of the three men indicted in the Nov. 23 slaying of Thomas G. Newman.

"As Mrs. Jessamy has said, the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous of cases," said her spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns. "And she has indicated that this is a heinous case."

Jessamy's decision comes at a time when Maryland's 25-year-old death penalty statute is being widely questioned. On the state Senate floor today, legislators are expected to hear a bill that would institute a two-year moratorium on capital punishment.

The men charged with killing Newman - Jovan J. House, 21, Anthony A. Brown, 34, and Raymond Saunders, 22 - are facing counts including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Police say three men ambushed Newman, a 12-year-veteran of the force, outside Joe's Tavern in Southeast Baltimore. They allege that House and Saunders were the gunmen and that Brown drove the getaway car. Jessamy is considering seeking the death penalty for House and Saunders, prosecutors say.

The motive, prosecutors and police say, was retaliation against Newman for testifying against Saunders' half-brother, who was convicted of shooting the detective during an ambush in April 2001.

The three defendants were to be arraigned tomorrow, but prosecutors asked the city's top criminal judge for a postponement, a move that will buy them three weeks so they can complete their decision on seeking the death penalty.

They have asked defense lawyers to present to them any factors that would prevent the state from seeking capital punishment.

"The state has solicited information from us whether there are circumstances that may affect their decision," said Timothy M. Gunning, Saunders' lawyer.

Gunning and the two other defense lawyers are in private practice and were asked by the public defender's office to represent the defendants. All have experience in trying death penalty cases.

"I was asked to do this because I had previous experience" in capital cases, said Mark A. Van Bavel, House's lawyer.

The arraignment for the three defendants is now set for March 27, when Jessamy is expected to announce her decision. She plans to discuss the matter with the victim's family before announcing a decision.

Prosecutors initially were not sure if the case was eligible for the death penalty. Under Maryland law, only certain murders are eligible for capital punishment, such as those that result in the death of an on-duty police officer or those committed during the commission of another felony.

To seek capital punishment in this case, the state has to prove that Newman, 37, was on duty when the shooting occurred.

They have decided that though Newman was not on duty in the bar, they believe he assumed his police responsibilities when he walked out of the bar and saw the gunmen.

If Jessamy seeks the death penalty, it will be an unusual step. Of the 200 or so homicide cases that cross her desk in a year, about 70 of are death-penalty eligible.

She has sought capital punishment once, and that was for convicted murderer Joseph R. Metheny.

Metheny was sentenced to life without parole for murdering a woman in 1996. Two years later, he was sentenced to death for the murder of another woman. The death sentence was reversed on appeal, and Metheny was given life without parole.

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