Experts testify at killer's hearing

Defense says excluding their statements at trial prevented fair sentence

February 16, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A psychiatric social worker and clinical psychologist hired in 2000 by lawyers representing a convicted killer at a capital sentencing hearing testified yesterday that they never had an opportunity to present evidence that the man's current attorneys say might have led a jury to sentence him to life in prison rather than death.

Attorneys representing death row inmate Lawrence Michael Borchardt Sr. in his quest to have his death sentence overturned say that the failure of Borchardt's previous lawyers to present expert testimony about the inmate's background and mental health at the sentencing hearing prevented him from receiving a fair sentence.

"Right now, what we have is two screw-ups with no explanation," Brian Murphy, one of three defense attorneys now representing Borchardt, said after the more than five-hour hearing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

In questioning the social worker and psychologist yesterday, prosecutors suggested that the decisions of Borchardt's original defense attorneys to selectively elicit testimony about their client's background at the sentencing hearing were conscious trial tactics.

The two attorneys, William Kanwisher and David P. Henninger, have not been called to testify. Neither returned phone messages yesterday.

Borchardt, 53, of Rosedale was sentenced to death in May 2000 after being convicted of fatally stabbing Joseph and Bernice Ohler, both in their 80s, while trying to get money to buy drugs. The Ohlers had twice given money to Borchardt, a heroin addict who was going door to door and soliciting funds, claiming that his wife needed cancer treatments.

Borchardt killed the couple on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, after they told him they didn't have any more money to give. The case was moved from Baltimore County to Anne Arundel after Borchardt's lawyers requested a change of venue.

Pamela Taylor, a psychiatric social worker, testified yesterday that at Kanwisher's request, she prepared in 2000 a psychosocial history on Borchardt in advance of his trial and sentencing. She characterized the convicted killer's upbringing as physically, sexually and emotionally abusive and expressed frustration that she was not asked to testify or prepare a report for presentation to jurors during the sentencing phase.

"I believe I could have put a psychological layer over the facts being testified to," she said, adding that her expert opinion could have highlighted not only Borchardt's background and mental deficiencies but also "how important that was in how Larry turned out."

During cross-examination, Taylor confirmed for Baltimore County prosecutor S. Ann Brobst that many of the details that she would have testified to were covered at the sentencing hearing by Borchardt's older brother.

Taylor also agreed that prosecutors likely would have questioned her at the sentencing hearing about aspects of Borchardt's background that Brobst characterized as "distasteful to jurors," including, as Taylor testified, sexual assaults on young girls, drug and alcohol addictions, and evidence that he beat his wife.

Lawrence Donner, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Borchardt in 2000 for the defense, testified yesterday that he had been told to be prepared to testify at the sentencing hearing May 30, 2000. But when he returned May 28 from a 19-day cruise, he learned that the hearing had been held May 22.

Murphy, an attorney now representing Borchardt, offered into evidence the transcript of a hearing at which Kanwisher requested a postponement of the trial and sentencing so that Donner could be present. A judge denied the request.

The hearing before Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela L. North is scheduled to resume today. Borchardt did not attend yesterday's court session. He asked to be excused because health problems make it difficult for him to make the trip.

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