Killer of 2 demands sentence by jury

Motion follows word that execution won't be sought

August 13, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A former National Security Agency cryptologist is demanding that a jury - not a judge - sentence him for killing two women a decade ago, filing his request just days after Anne Arundel County prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty at the request of the victims' families.

But neither the lawyer for Darris A. Ware nor prosecutors believe that Ware's unusual request will delay the sentencing scheduled for Sept. 27.

Prosecutors abandoned their most recent quest for a death sentence last week - two previous death sentences had been thrown out - after relatives of Betina "Kristi" Gentry and Cynthia V. Allen pleaded for an end to the emotionally wrenching court proceedings. The families had requested a sentence of life without parole.

Prosecutors say Ware lost his right to opt to be sentenced by a jury when they took the death penalty off the table last Friday.

In Maryland, only those convicted in death penalty cases can choose whether to be sentenced by a jury or judge. Other sentences are determined by judges alone.

Ware's attorney, Archangelo M. Tuminelli, said, "there is no case that we are aware of that has held that Mr. Ware would be entitled to a jury sentence after the death notice has been withdrawn."

But Ware, 33, housed at Supermax, filed the three-page motion on his own letterhead stationery after hearing news reports Saturday that he was no longer facing a possible death penalty.

Ware could not reach Tuminelli initially and did not yet know that his resentencing had been pushed back about six weeks, Tuminelli said.

In May, when he was facing the possibility of the death penalty, Ware opted to have a jury sentence him. He contends in the motion filed Wednesday that prosecutors' "sole motive" in dropping the possibility of a death sentence was to deprive him of that choice.

Prosecutors reject that assertion. "We did this because the family as a unified group pushed us to bring an end to this case," said Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.

Relatives said last week that they wanted to halt appeals that have kept the case very much alive since 1995.

Yesterday, Keith Gentry, a brother of one of the victims, said Ware "is just grasping at straws" in his latest court filing. He said he suspects that Ware is trying to postpone being placed in the general prison population.

Ware, who once had top-level security clearance at the NSA, was accused of the Dec. 30, 1993, fatal shootings of Gentry, 18, who was his former fiancee, and Allen, 22, who was visiting at the Gentry home in Severn. In 1995, a Howard County jury convicted him of first-degree murder and voted for death sentences in each case.

But Maryland's highest court erased the conviction and sentences two years later because prosecutors failed to tell defense lawyers that a key prosecution witness, who was in prison, was angling to get his sentence reduced.

In the 1999 retrial, Ware again was convicted and sentenced to death. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. Then, in 2002, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller erased the conviction, saying Ware's defense lawyers were not prepared for sentencing.

When Heller erased the second death sentence, he also set the stage for another appeal. He said Ware, when he is sentenced, can challenge the trial judge's decision to let jurors hear police testify that Ware chose to remain silent when police questioned him.

Attorney Fred Warren Bennett, who is representing Ware on another appellate issue in this case, said that if his client is not allowed a jury sentencing this time around, that could become grounds for a future appeal.

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