Ehrlich signs warrant, setting Dec. execution

Baltimore & Region


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has signed a warrant scheduling the execution of death row inmate Wesley E. Baker in December for the 1991 killing of a Baltimore County woman in front of her grandchildren in a mall parking lot.

The governor signed the death warrant late Thursday afternoon, exactly one month after Maryland's highest court rejected on procedural grounds Baker's bid to have his sentence overturned. Baker's lawyers based the appeal on a University of Maryland study that found racial and geographic disparities in the state's use of capital punishment. Court of Appeals decisions do not become final until 30 days after an opinion is issued.

The order schedules Baker, 47, to be put to death by lethal injection during the week of Dec. 5.

Gary W. Christopher, a federal public defender and one of Baker's attorneys, expressed concern yesterday over the timing of the execution order- both in terms of when the warrant was sought and the four-week window between the date of the order and scheduled execution.

State law requires that an execution be scheduled within four to eight weeks of the issuance of a death warrant.

Christopher said he had thought that Baltimore County prosecutors would seek a death warrant next week. When he learned yesterday morning that they had made their request Thursday afternoon, he faxed a letter to the governor, asking Ehrlich to wait for Baker's latest round of legal challenges - filed two weeks ago - to make their way through the courts.

"By the time the governor got it, it was too late," Christopher said. "They'd already issued the warrant. There's no reason for these appeals to be under the glare of an issued warrant."

The most recent appeal asks the court to reopen Baker's post-conviction proceedings to consider the state-funded University of Maryland death penalty study.

Stephen Bailey, Baltimore County's deputy state's attorney, said those issues were decided by the appeals courts. "We didn't feel there was any reason not to move the process forward," he said.

Baker was convicted of murder in 1992 for killing Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide. She was shot June 6, 1991, in front of two of her grandchildren in the parking lot of Westview Mall in a robbery that netted $10.

He was originally scheduled to be put to death the week of May 13, 2002. But on May 9, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed a state moratorium on executions while the University of Maryland death penalty study was completed and reviewed.

Because Glendening stayed Baker's execution, the request for a new death warrant had to go to the governor's office rather than to a Circuit Court judge, as is typically the case.

Christopher, the defense attorney, said he intends to ask for a new stay of execution.

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