Death row inmate may get new hearing

Prosecutors agree to request on sentencing

January 22, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore man who was sentenced to death in 1988 for the robbery and killing of a 34-year-old bank executive will likely move off Maryland's death row, court papers show.

Acknowledging that Kenneth Collins' legal representation was unconstitutionally ineffective, prosecutors have agreed to the inmate's request for a new sentencing hearing.

If a judge grants the resentencing, as expected, prosecutors will drop their pursuit of the death penalty, court records say.

Prosecutors would not say yesterday why they would give up their effort to secure a death sentence in the case, but court records show that they made the decision after talking with the victim's family.

A jury found Collins, who had a criminal record of armed robberies, guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Wayne L. Breeden on Dec. 6, 1986.

Breeden, a Maryland National Bank vice president who was married and had an infant daughter, was killed after being followed by his assailants from a Parkville automated teller machine, according to news accounts and lawyers in the case.

Prosecutors have defended Collins' death sentence as fair. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in another Baltimore County death penalty case - that of Kevin Wiggins - has changed the playing field, prosecutors said.

In the ruling in June that overturned Wiggins' death sentence in the killing of a woman in Woodlawn, the Supreme Court raised the standards for defense attorneys' performance in capital punishment cases.

In light of that decision, Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey wrote in a court document that prosecutors would concede that Collins' lawyer's actions were "unreasonable and constituted deficient performance."

Collins, who maintains his innocence, has long contended that his original attorney, M. Gordon Tayback, did not adequately represent him. Tayback did not call a single witness during the trial and did not investigate Collins' background for the sentencing hearing, said Peter Keith, Collins' current lawyer.

"It has always been very clear to me that someone shouldn't face the death penalty when they have no witnesses called for them at all, no experts retained for them by a lawyer, and no investigation into their background," Keith said.

"Since the Wiggins case was decided last year, the Supreme Court has determined that in a death penalty case there must be affirmative information provided in the penalty phase," Tayback said last night. "That was not the standard in the 1980s. Collins himself did not want to provide information to the jury as to his background or to argue that his background should allow for him to receive a sentence of life imprisonment as opposed to the death penalty."

Tayback said he suggested to the court a decade ago that Collins, having changed his mind on that issue, should get a new sentencing hearing.

Keith has asked Somerset County Circuit Judge Daniel M. Long to grant Collins a new trial or a new sentencing hearing. The case was moved to Somerset County because of pretrial publicity.

Keith said the problems with Collins' original attorney, as well as what he says is new information from a key witness, merits a new trial. Prosecutors have opposed that request.

Court papers do not say whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty if Long orders a new trial.

Bailey said he would not comment until he received Long's formal order about the sentencing hearing and trial requests.

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.

In the court file, a letter from Bailey to Long says prosecutors decided after talking "with the wife of the victim in this case" not to seek death in the case of a new sentencing hearing.

Attempts to reach Breeden's widow yesterday were unsuccessful.

Life without parole is not a possible sentence in Collins' case because the killing took place before the law creating that sentence was passed.

If prosecutors do not seek death, the longest sentence they could secure is life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

Collins' case has been a rallying point for local anti-death penalty activists, who believe Collins was convicted on shoddy evidence. Among other criticisms, they point out that the man first charged with Breeden's murder, Tony Michie, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors after he agreed to name Collins as the shooter.

Mike Stark, the Baltimore-Washington coordinator of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said he and other death penalty opponents were pleased about the developments in Collins' case. "It's a huge admission that something is deeply wrong with this case," he said.

Prosecutors and Breeden's family have said they have no doubt about Collins' guilt.

If Collins' death sentence is overturned, nine Maryland inmates would be left on death row. He would be the third Baltimore County defendant to be released from death row in the past year.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.