Prosecutor won't ask for death for killer

After two reversals, state will seek life term for cryptologist Ware

Victims' families want case to end

August 07, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's top prosecutor has abandoned his third bid to procure a death sentence for a former National Security Agency cryptologist convicted of killing two women more than 10 years ago after relatives of the victims pleaded for an end to the emotionally draining court proceedings.

Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said his office had hoped to once again seek death for Darris A. Ware - two prior death sentences were tossed out - but the families of victims Betina "Kristi" Gentry, 18, and Cynthia V. Allen, 22, persuaded him that it was time to give the case a sense of finality.

Weathersbee said prosecutors will instead ask for life without parole at Ware's sentencing hearing, which he said he hoped could be scheduled for this month.

"They've been through so much. I can't look them in the eye and say, `Nah, you have to relive it again.' I can't do that," Weathersbee said yesterday.

Gentry's oldest brother, Keith Gentry, said the route to execution in Maryland is a torturous one for families - a repetitive process of trials, appeals and overturned sentences. With the third sentencing looming nearly 11 years after his sister's death, Keith Gentry, a retired state trooper, said he proposed to other family members that they advocate for a sentence that would put Ware behind bars for life.

Weathersbee's decision comes two years after an Anne Arundel Circuit judge vacated Ware's death sentence, saying his two lawyers were ill-prepared to argue against death before a jury in 1999.

It also comes nearly two months after the execution of Steven H. Oken, whose death was eagerly sought for 17 years by the families of the women he killed. Seven inmates are currently on death row awaiting execution.

Yesterday, Ware's attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, called Weathersbee's decision "somewhat out of the ordinary," but he also noted that Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz chose a life sentence over death for an inmate last year out of concern for what the judge called "the devastating effect that this unending litigation has on the innocent families of the victims."

"If Judge Levitz is any indication, then there is some concern out there for victims' families that this practice is difficult and there's not a lot of closure in these cases," Tuminelli said.

He said he believes going for a life sentence instead of death in Ware's case "is probably a reasonable decision on the part of the state."

Ware, who had a top-level security clearance, was first convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1995 by a Howard County jury for the shooting deaths of Gentry, his former fiance, and Allen, her friend, in Gentry's Severn home on Dec. 30, 1993. The case was moved to Howard after Ware's lawyers argued that their client could not get a fair trial in Anne Arundel because of pre-trial publicity.

But Maryland's highest court threw out the conviction and the death sentence two years later, citing prosecutors' failure to reveal information about a key prosecution witness who was in jail and hoping to trim his prison term.

Prosecutors tried Ware again in 1999 - this time in Anne Arundel County - and again won a conviction and death sentence. But although both were later affirmed by the Court of Appeals, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. wiped out the sentence in 2002, citing deficiencies in preparation by Ware's lawyers.

Keith Gentry said yesterday that he believes Ware is an intelligent man who knows how to play the system.

In fact, he said, after the second sentencing in 1999, Ware turned to Keith Gentry and his brother and told him he'd see them again in four years.

So when the families of the women met with prosecutors recently, Gentry said he put a proposition on the table: Halt the process with a sentence of life without parole and send Ware into a maximum-security prison's general population.

"This was the last thing he thought would happen," Keith Gentry said. "His light at the end of the tunnel just got turned off."

Weathersbee said when family members approached him with their request, he told them to take some time to think about it. But the families, about a dozen people who presented a unified front, were firm in their resolve, he said.

"They wanted to get on with their life and make sure there was a brick wall at the end of the road for Mr. Ware," he said. "I hope this will do it."

Still, Weathersbee and Tuminelli said there is one open issue in the case that could affect Ware's conviction. Although the Court of Appeals upheld the guilty findings in 2000, Heller ordered an additional appeal on a new constitutional issue - whether there was a violation of Ware's right to remain silent.

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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