Killer receives 2 life terms

Man sentenced 3rd time in 1993 double murder

Death penalty overturned twice

Former NSA worker has 30 days to appeal

Anne Arundel

October 15, 2004|By Phillip McGowan and Sarah Schaffer | Phillip McGowan and Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

A former National Security Agency cryptologist who has had two death sentences overturned since killing two women 11 years ago was given consecutive life sentences for those crimes yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

But members of the victims' families worry that Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck's decision won't bring finality to a case that began after Darris A. Ware, 33, shot his former fiancee, Betina "Kristi" Gentry, and her friend Cynthia V. Allen on Dec. 30, 1993.

"To say that I'm happy with it is an understatement," said Gentry's father, Edward L. Gentry. "[But] I don't think this is the end. We can only hope."

Members of the Gentry and Allen families testified during an emotional day in which the defense tried to reduce Ware's sentence to one life term, with the second life term suspended, so Ware could be transferred from Supermax prison in Baltimore to the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.

"I had always wanted a daughter ... she was so much to me," Edward Gentry said. "It was such a thrill to have her in my life."

Gentry broke into tears on the witness stand when prosecutors asked him to identify his daughter in a family picture.

"I have not slept a full night since Kristi died," he said.

Ramon Vega, 63, the father of Cynthia Allen, also broke down during his testimony. "I've never felt so much pain in my life," he said.

In the afternoon, the defense argued that Ware suffered from alcohol abuse, depression and panic disorder in the months before the killings at Gentry's home in Severn and said treatment at Patuxent would help to rehabilitate him.

Defense attorneys said Ware spent four years in the Navy as a cryptologist before working at the NSA. He also served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

"Up to the incident, his life was extensively productive. It seems to be ... out of character with the rest of his life," said defense lawyer Carroll McCabe.

Ware was first convicted of shooting Gentry, 18, and Allen, 22, by a Howard County jury in 1995, and was sentenced to death. Two years later, Maryland's highest court threw out the conviction and the sentence, saying the prosecution failed to reveal to the defense that a key prosecution witness was seeking to reduce his prison sentence.

Ware was retried and again convicted and sentenced to death in 1999, but County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller overturned that sentence. Among his reasons, Heller said Ware's defense team was unprepared for sentencing.

Life sentence

In early August this year, the Gentry and Allen families petitioned Anne Arundel County prosecutors to eliminate the death penalty from consideration and to pursue a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Had prosecutors again pursued the death penalty, a two-week sentencing hearing likely would have ensued, as opposed to a one-day hearing yesterday. That would have created a situation "in which you would almost have to retry the case," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

Prosecutors and the judge were careful yesterday in dealing with a case that has been tangled up in court for more than a decade.

"Candidly, whatever I say might be cause for appeal," Manck said before his ruling. "I respect the courageousness of the families not to ask for the death sentence to gain some closure."

Appeal possible

Even with Manck's decision yesterday, Ware has more avenues to pursue an appeal. In overturning Ware's murder convictions from the 1999 retrial, Heller ruled that the trial judge erred in allowing a police officer to testify that Ware was not responsive to questions regarding the gun used in the murders.

Ware has 30 days to appeal the life sentences. If he were to win again on appeal, Weathersbee didn't rule out the possibility that the county would again seek the death penalty for Ware - even against the wishes of the victims' families.

"What I would like to do and what the family wants to do, that's two different things," Weathersbee said. "We'll cross the bridge when we get there."

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