Death warrant signed for inmate

Judge sets period in April for executing man in 1984 killings

appeal is planned

February 26, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has signed a warrant that sets the stage for the execution in April of longtime Maryland death row inmate Vernon L. Evans Jr., who was convicted in 1984 of the contract murder of a federal witness and a bystander.

Judge Christian M. Kahl signed the death warrant Thursday, two days after the Supreme Court refused to hear the latest appeal from Evans, 55, who argued that he was wrongfully sentenced under harsher sentencing guidelines that took effect after he committed his crimes.

The judge ordered that Evans to be put to death by lethal injection sometime during a five-day period that begins April 18.

"It has been 22 years since this crime happened, so, for a lack of a better term, this has been a long time coming," said John Cox, an assistant Baltimore County state's attorney.

Attorneys for Evans said yesterday that they will ask the court to stay the execution while they appeal the death sentence, using a University of Maryland study that found racial and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty in Maryland.

"Maryland is about to execute one man when all [death row inmates] are affected by this study, and only some are being given the benefit of having the courts address it," said Julie S. Dietrich, one of three attorneys representing Evans. "It seems that something is wrong."

Evans and drug kingpin Anthony Grandison were convicted and sentenced to death in the April 1983 killing of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville. Grandison paid Evans $9,000 to kill Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, who were to testify against Grandison in a federal drug trial.

Kennedy was working for her sister Cheryl that day, and prosecutors said at trial that they believe Evans mistook Kennedy for her sister on the day of the killings.

The two victims were gunned down in the lobby of the motel in a brief burst of bullets from a MAC-11 machine-pistol with a silencer.

Grandison remains on death row.

A death warrant is pending against one other Maryland inmate, Heath Burch, but that warrant has been stayed to allow the Prince George's County man to pursue one of several appeals in the works that focus on the University of Maryland study.

University of Maryland professor Raymond Paternoster found that black defendants who killed whites were statistically most likely to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death in Maryland. Black defendants whose victims were white were 2 1/2 times more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants with white victims, according to the study.

Evans is black; his two victims were white.

Paternoster also highlighted geographic considerations in how the death penalty in Maryland is applied, noting that offenders who commit murder in Baltimore County are more likely to be charged with capital murder than defendants who commit crimes in other jurisdictions.

Other death penalty case appeals based on the Paternoster study, including one filed by Wesley E. Baker, convicted of killing a woman at a Baltimore County shopping center, are awaiting court hearings.

Dietrich said yesterday that she and her co-counsel tried to intervene when informed by county prosecutors that they intended to seek a death warrant for Evans.

In a letter dated Thursday and faxed that day to the judge's chambers, defense attorney A. Stephen Hut Jr. wrote of the Paternoster study: "We would contend that it would be starkly unfair (and a further example of the arbitrariness of the Maryland death penalty regime) to proceed with a death warrant in this case while defendants ... throughout the state (and indeed, in this very county) are being allowed to actively litigate motions addressing this fundamental issue."

It was unclear whether Kahl received the fax before signing the death warrant.

Through a member of his staff, the judge declined yesterday to comment.

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