Killer wavers again on appeals

Death row inmate asks for speedy execution, then opts for further hearings

Inmate now wants to appeal

February 12, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

He began by listing his health problems, suggesting that he's ready to be executed because life in prison with diabetes, liver disease and other illnesses is "just too hard."

He told the judge that he didn't want to draw out his post-conviction appeals the way other death row inmates have, characterizing the years-long process as "a total waste of public money."

But by the end of yesterday's 22-minute hearing, the convicted killer who wrote two months ago to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., asking him to "stop the stalling" and schedule an execution, had changed his mind again. Lawrence Michael Borchardt Sr. told an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge that he wants to go ahead with his post-conviction hearings - so long as he doesn't have to attend the court proceedings.

"Yeah, that'd be fine," Borchardt, 53, ultimately told Judge Pamela L. North, who asked whether the inmate would like his lawyers to proceed with a court hearing scheduled for next week. The Rosedale man, convicted of fatally stabbing an elderly couple on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, then told the judge to have a good day and wished everyone in the courtroom a good weekend.

It was Borchardt's second courtroom flip-flop.

In September, the death row inmate told North that he wanted to abandon the legal fight to save his life only to change his mind by the end of the hearing, telling the judge that he did want his legal team to proceed with a challenge alleging that he had ineffective counsel during his 2000 trial.

Borchardt's current lawyers have said they also plan to argue that his health problems and a history of being abused as a child are among the factors that should have led to a life sentence in prison rather than the death penalty. A hearing is scheduled to begin Tuesday and expected to last through the week.

Borchardt was convicted in 2000 of killing Joseph and Bernice Ohler, both in their 80s, while trying to get money to buy drugs. The Ohlers had twice before given money to Borchardt, a heroin addict who was going door to door and soliciting funds by claiming that his wife needed cancer treatments.

He killed the couple when they told him they didn't have any more cash to give, prosecutors said during the trial. Police found in the Ohlers' two-story brick home in Rosedale a handwritten IOU from Borchardt's earlier visit and the welfare card of his girlfriend, who posed as the cancer patient.

An Anne Arundel County jury sentenced Borchardt to death. The case was moved from Baltimore County to Anne Arundel after Borchardt's lawyers requested a change of venue.

In a letter dated Dec. 5 and addressed to the governor, Borchardt repeatedly urged Ehrlich to carry out the death sentence and insisted that he is "of a sound mind." Describing his decision as "FINAL" and referring to a previous letter sent to the governor's office, he wrote, "I only am asking again that you do your job your [sic] swore to do and stop the stalling."

Borchardt expressed similar feelings yesterday.

Dressed in a tan prison uniform, his gray hair thinning and scraggly, he told the judge he did not want to spend "15 or 17 years" fighting his death sentence like Steven Oken, an inmate executed in June for the 1987 rape and murder of a White Marsh newlywed.

"It's a total waste of public money," Borchardt said yesterday in court. "People wonder why we're having trouble with money. It's because of [expletive] like me."

Borchardt also apologized "for what I've done in my past" and said of the appeals process, "I just don't want to go through all that crap. I just feel like I take up everyone's time."

But North, the judge, asked detailed and repetitive questions about the inmate's motivation. "You understand that it's my job to come in every day and hear cases like yours," she told him. "That's what I'm paid to do."

Asked by the judge whether the main reason he had written to the governor was that his health problems have left him "so uncomfortable physically" that he doesn't want to have to make the trip to court for his appeal hearings, Borchardt said it was. North granted his request to be excused from the hearings.

Borchardt was not the first death row inmate to ask authorities to speed up his execution. John F. Thanos, who killed three teenagers in 1990, was put to death by lethal injection in May 1994 after waiving his appeals. Although Maryland law was somewhat ambiguous at the time of Thanos' waiver, the General Assembly rewrote part of the death penalty statute to clarify that inmates have an automatic right to post-conviction hearings but can waive that right if they choose. Irvin Tarbart, 61, was the Ohlers' longtime friend and neighbor and the man who called police after finding Joseph Ohler lying in the couple's backyard garden the night they were killed. He drove to Annapolis yesterday for the hearing to "show that somebody still cares" and expressed disappointment that Borchardt had again changed his mind about going forward with the execution.

"I thought it was a good idea that he didn't want to waste taxpayers' money," Tarbart said outside the courthouse. "I would prefer that ... he gets the penalty he deserves."

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