Life of convicted killer rests with jury

Man faces death penalty in murder of city officer

February 20, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Although a city jury hasn't sentenced a convicted killer to death in 14 years, prosecutors hope to convince jurors today that a Southeast Baltimore man deserves to die after being convicted this week of killing a police detective 15 months ago.

Jovan House, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder Tuesday in the retaliatory killing of Detective Thomas Newman, who was killed Nov. 23, 2002, outside a Southeast Baltimore tavern.

The second phase of House's trial, in which the jury will decide whether to sentence him to death, begins today and is expected to stretch into next week.

Defense lawyers have said House's is "a life worth saving," while prosecutors have said he is a "cold-blooded, calculated and unrepentant cop killer."

The city's top prosecutor, Patricia C. Jessamy, would not discuss the Newman case or her decision to seek the death penalty. She has said in the past that her office will seek death for defendants accused of killing a police officer or other "heinous" crimes.

Legal scholars say that city prosecutors are reluctant to ask for the death penalty - and juries are reluctant to impose it - partly because of demographics. "There is greater support for death sentences in rural and white areas than in predominantly African-American areas," said Michael A. Millemann, a University of Maryland law professor who has worked on capital cases.

The city's population is about 65 percent African-American, compared with Baltimore County, which is about 20 percent.

According to a study conducted for The Sun in 2002, there is far less support for the death penalty in the city than in the county.

In the city, 60 percent of residents surveyed would support a moratorium on executions compared with 40 percent in the county.

Jerome Deise, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said city residents tend to be more skeptical of police. "There's a sense that police get creative with the evidence, that they stretch it a bit," Desie said.

The last time a city jury sentenced a man to death was in 1990, when John Booth was given his third death sentence for fatally stabbing an elderly couple. The first two death sentences were overturned on appeal.

Booth remains on death row. City jurors rejected a capital sentence once in 1993, sparing Melvin Lorenzo Jones, who sexually assaulted and killed Sister MaryAnn Glinka in her North Baltimore convent.

Baltimore prosecutors last sought a death sentence in 1998 against serial killer Joseph R. Metheny. That case was handled by city prosecutors, but was tried in Baltimore County at the request of the defense.

Metheny was handed a death sentence for the murder of a city woman, but an appeals court overturned the sentence and gave him life without parole.

The last city man put to death was Flint Gregory Hunt, who was executed in 1997 after being convicted 12 years earlier of killing 25-year-old Baltimore policeman Vincent J. Adolfo in 1985.

Newman was the most recent city officer to be killed. Prosecutors say House killed the detective in an act of retaliation for having testified against a relative. Raymond Saunders, 22, and Anthony A. Brown, 34, are also charged in the killing and will be tried later. Police believe Saunders was the second gunman.

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