Howard Week

July 25, 2004

Smart Growth exemption granted for Route 32 project

Led by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a divided state Board of Public Works exempted a contentious western Howard County highway project from tough anti-sprawl regulations Wednesday, raising conservationists' concerns about the future of Maryland's nationally celebrated Smart Growth laws.

Citizen groups and residents implored the governor to honor restrictions barring the widening of a 9-mile section of Route 32, fretting that construction would lead to a loss of farms and open space in Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties.

Their arguments failed.

"This is the death knell for Smart Growth in the Ehrlich administration," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard Democrat. "Maryland, to this point, has been the national leader in Smart Growth. But you'd be hard-pressed to say we are after this decision."

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in Washington, called the board action a "terrible precedent" and predicted the highway would sap vitality from the region's major cities.

"Essentially, what Maryland is busy doing is building a series of ring roads," he said. "You make this much cheap green land available away from Baltimore and away from Washington, and you are hurting the economic futures of both cities."

Maintaining that the project would improve safety on the stretch of highway between Interstate 70 and Route 108, Ehrlich urged the board to bypass state regulations so his Transportation Department can seek federal money for the widening.

"I'm concerned as a function of safety," Ehrlich said. "It's a tough call. You want to preserve what can be preserved."

The Transportation Department and the governor relied on a catch-all exemption in the law that allows rural construction under "extraordinary circumstances."

"If you can make an exception for this, you can make an exception for just about anything," Schwartz said.

Fatal poisoning brings term of life in prison

Ryan T. Furlough, the Ellicott City teenager who fatally laced his best friend's soda with cyanide last year, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison by a judge who said he did not want to cut off any chance that the 19-year-old could one day earn his release.

The sentence - a middle ground between life without parole, which prosecutors sought, and the shorter term requested by defense attorneys - was imposed at the end of an emotional four-hour hearing that brought a simmering debate over the use of antidepressant drugs by youths to the forefront.

It also left both sides disappointed.

For Furlough's mother, it was further proof that the judicial system is unwilling to acknowledge her belief that the antidepressants prescribed for her son led him to kill his Centennial High School classmate and friend, Ben Vassiliev, 17.

"This is not an isolated case. I wish it was. ... What does it take for our society to wake up? We've got the wake-up call now," Susan Furlough said.

For Vassiliev's family, it meant an uncertain future filled with parole hearings.

"It's not over. This will never end for me now," said Erik Vassiliev, Ben's 15-year-old brother.

The teenager's father, Walter Vassiliev, said that his son's death should have been enough to convince the judge that Ryan Furlough "should be put away for good."

"Ryan Furlough can be treated and he can be medicated, but he can never be rehabilitated," he said. "Ryan Furlough needs to be incarcerated forever and ever because you can't cure evil."

Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said he was not prepared to rule out any chance that Furlough, who had no previous criminal record or history of substance abuse, could one day convince a parole board that he deserved to be freed.

"There's no indication ... that he's a hardened criminal," Kane said before imposing the sentence for first-degree murder.

Murder verdict upheld despite question on juror

The presence of a resident alien on the jury that convicted a 33-year-old Columbia man of murder last month is not grounds for setting aside the verdict and ordering a new trial, a Howard County Circuit judge ruled Wednesday.

Although U.S. citizenship is a requirement of jury service under Maryland law, lawyers for Marcus D. Owens never challenged the juror's qualifications to serve on the panel during the selection process and therefore gave up the right to object later, Judge Diane O. Leasure wrote in an 11-page opinion.

Without evidence of bias or other wrongdoing, the "mere presence and participation" of juror Adeyemi Alade, a resident alien from Nigeria, is not enough to invalidate the verdict, the judge wrote, noting a Supreme Court case that dates to the late 19th century, a Maryland appellate decision and cases from other states.

"There was no evidence presented in the case ... to suggest that the presence of Mr. Alade on the jury in any way denied the defendant a fair and impartial trial or violated his due process rights," Leasure wrote.

The decision, which echoed arguments made by Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy in legal filings and during an earlier hearing, pleased prosecutors and brought some relief to the family of the case's young victim, Kevonte Davis.

Owens, the boy's stepfather, was convicted June 10 of second-degree murder, child abuse and assault in the beating of the 2-year-old. Owens is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 1.

"I'm just glad that we don't have to go through it all over again," said Kenesha Davis, 22, Kevonte's mother.

Louis P. Willemin, Owens' public defender, who argued that the citizenship requirement "takes on a different significance" because of the loyalty it implies to the United States and its institutions, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

On a possible appeal, he said a decision was up to his office's appellate division.

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