Trial could make history as woman faces execution

October 30, 2003|By Michael Olesker

ROCKVILLE -- Makayla Ann Frost was nestled in her mother's arms when the assailant arrived from somewhere out of the darkness of the human spirit. The mother was 16. The assailant wore a ski mask and a hooded sweat shirt. The first bullet entered the mother's neck and exited her spine, and she dropped her baby to the street and died. The next shot was fired into Makayla's mouth as she lay near her mother, and it ended her life 37 days after it had begun.

The baby's grandmother and 8-year old uncle, named Lee, stood a few feet from the slaughter. They saw the driver jump back into a dark green minivan and speed off. And that Oct. 19 night a year ago, in Martinsburg, W.Va., maybe 50 miles from the shooting in Frederick County's Walkersville, police stopped the van and arrested Sonya Marie Daniels and said she committed a crime that could make history.

They are asking the death penalty for Daniels. In a nation where 8,100 people have been executed in the past half-century, fewer than 50 have been women. In Maryland, where about 14,000 killings have been committed in the past 25 years, only three people have been executed, all men. In the past hundred years in Maryland, not one woman has been executed.

Yesterday, in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Daniels sat all day long with a blank expression on her face, broken only when she chewed on the inside of her lip. She is 26. She wore a dark suit with a white blouse beneath it, like a corporate executive. Before her life fell apart, she worked in a health care insurance office and took college courses at night to become an accountant. She has a 7-year-old son. Her attorney, Katy O'Donnell, said her client was innocent, the victim of a botched investigation by police imagining a "love triangle," and said Daniels was "living a nightmare."

Thus were the first seeds of doubt planted.

This case was moved here because it was too hot for Frederick County, too tough to get a fair jury. It reeks of the tawdry. It ends with the taking of two children's lives -- the baby Makayla and the 16-year old mother, Deanna Marie Prichard -- but it begins, like so much crime, with the entanglement of drugs. And with a fellow named Tracy Frost, in his 30s, who is a real piece of work.

Frost is now doing 10 years for dealing crack. But, before he went away, he had first been Daniels' boyfriend and then Prichard's. Prichard was 15 when she became pregnant. A few weeks after the baby arrived, she and her mom, and her little brother Lee, went to visit Frost at the Washington County Detention Center. The baby went, too.

When they got there, they found Daniels was already in the visitors room. When they went back a week later, she was there again. As Assistant State's Attorney David Callahan told a jury yesterday, "Daniels said to Frost, `Tell her what you told me -- that that's not your baby.'"

In an emotional moment, Daniels was asked to leave. She went quietly. But, as prosecutors see it, anger triggered an instinct for murder. One week later, after another prison visit, the family returned to Walkersville. The boy Lee was told to walk the family dog. A dark minivan pulled next to him.

"Do you know Deanna Prichard?" the driver asked. She was a young black woman; so is Daniels.

"I'm Tracy's sister, and I want to see the baby," the woman said.

The boy led the driver to the house. The family emerged and walked to the side of the van. But now, emerging from the van was someone in a ski mask and hooded sweat shirt, carrying a handgun.

"Get in the van," the assailant said.

"No," said Deanna Prichard.

"Get in the van."


Deanna's mother, Patricia Collins, said, "Give me the baby." Deanna turned to her, and the assailant placed the handgun next to her neck and fired. Then, with Deanna and the baby lying in the street, the assailant leaned down and fired a shot directly into little Makayla's mouth.

In court yesterday, Sonya Daniels listened to this description and did not change her expression. The night of the killing, she was found in a dark green minivan by police in West Virginia, near the home she had moved into just weeks before. There was blood on one of the van's hubcaps.

But there is also this.

The van belongs to Sonya Daniels' father, Joe Daniels, a career military man who now works as an officer at the Maryland Correctional Institution. He says his daughter borrowed the van about 2:30. The shooting was about 30 minutes later. There are, said defense attorney O'Donnell, 49 miles between the father's home and the killing ground.

The police, said O'Donnell, "didn't even bother to calculate that she couldn't have been there. They never drove it or timed it. They made up their minds it was a love triangle. They didn't investigate what was right in front of them."

There is also this.

The victim Prichard, said O'Donnell, "wasn't just exposed to drugs. She was immersed in it. She held Tracy's drugs in her own home. She had drug money in her bedroom and guns under her bed. People came to the house for drug deals all day." The one who killed Deanna and her baby, O'Donnell said, was a drug trafficker angry that Tracy Frost owed drug money.

This Montgomery County jury will spend the next several weeks pondering such details.

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