Attorneys try to halt execution of killer

Evidence was omitted about inmate's past

November 23, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

With less than two weeks before death row inmate Wesley Eugene Baker could be executed, his lawyers filed court papers yesterday saying that the convicted killer's death sentence should be overturned because his attorneys at sentencing did not offer evidence of a troubled and abusive childhood that led Baker to drink vodka and use marijuana by age 10 and shoot heroin by 14.

Baker's lawyers argue that a sentencing judge might have spared the man's life in 1992 had his trial attorneys called as witnesses Baker's mother and a social worker who had compiled a family history documenting Baker's birth to an unstable 13-year-old girl, the domestic violence he witnessed as a child and his frequent attempts to run away.

The lawyers, however, decided not to call their mitigation witnesses. Told just before the sentencing hearing about the family history his attorneys planned to present, Baker forbade his lawyers from presenting any of it, according to court papers. Additional investigation by Baker's defense team revealed that he had been beaten and sexually abused as a child, the court papers show.

"People will denigrate it as the abuse excuse, but it's not an excuse," said Gary W. Christopher, a federal public defender and one of Baker's lawyers. "It's evidence of how a person fell into the cracks of society and ended up on the fringes, doing all sorts of self-destructive things that ended on the worst day of his life with murdering someone."

Baker, 47, is scheduled to be executed the week of Dec. 5 for the 1991 killing of Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide, in front of her grandchildren in a Baltimore County mall parking lot.

A death row inmate in another Baltimore County case, Lawrence Michael Borchardt Sr., was granted a new sentencing hearing in May after pressing the argument that an attorney who defended him at a capital sentencing hearing in 2000 provided ineffective counsel by not presenting mitigating evidence that might have persuaded a jury to spare the convicted killer's life.

In another Baltimore County case, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 threw out the death sentence of convicted murderer Kevin E. Wiggins, saying trial lawyers in his 1989 case failed to present mitigating evidence about horrific childhood abuses.

Prosecutors have said, however, that Baker's case differs in that his lawyers had collected - but chose not to present - evidence of Baker's troubling childhood.

In their petition to the Harford County Circuit Court, where Baker's case was tried, defense attorneys Michael E. Lawlor and Gary E. Proctor wrote that they "continue to be flabbergasted by the total abdication of trial counsel's failure to present a case in mitigation, an omission inexplicably exacerbated by appellate counsel's failure to raise it on appeal and in collateral proceedings."

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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