State's highest court rejects killer's appeals

November 24, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

Maryland's highest court rejected yesterday every request before it from death row inmate Wesley Eugene Baker, including an emergency motion to stay his scheduled execution next month and an appeal based on a state-funded study that found racial and geographical disparities in the state's use of capital punishment.

The rulings from the Maryland Court of Appeals appear to eliminate any chance that a state court will rule on the merits of the convicted killer's claim that his sentence should be overturned because of the results of the University of Maryland study.

"I'm disappointed, not just because of Mr. Baker's situation but also because I truly believe this is an important public issue," said Gary W. Christopher, a federal public defender and one of Baker's attorneys. "The death penalty has been under a cloud of suspicion, and the courts are there to resolve those kinds of concerns. We've tried five times to get that claim before the court, and no one will rule on the merits."

Christopher said he will appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court next week.

The Court of Appeals decision was issued yesterday afternoon in a two-page order. It did not mention how the seven judges voted, indicating only that a majority of the court concurred.

Baker, 47, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection the week of Dec. 5 for the 1991 fatal shooting of Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide, in front of her grandchildren in a Baltimore County mall parking lot.

Prosecutors with the state attorney general's office and the Baltimore County state's attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

Still pending is a new round of legal challenges filed Tuesday by Baker's lawyers in Harford County Circuit Court, where his case was tried, that argue his sentence should be overturned because his attorneys at sentencing in 1992 did not offer evidence of his troubled childhood.

Death penalty opponents expressed disappointment and anger yesterday at the appellate judges' refusal to take up the issues raised in the state-funded analysis of Maryland's use of the death penalty.

"I had hoped that our Court of Appeals would take seriously the disparities found in the study," said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

Completed by University of Maryland professor Raymond Paternoster, the $225,000 study found that black defendants who killed whites were the most likely to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death in Maryland.

It also noted a geographical disparity in how death sentences are handed down, saying that defendants in Baltimore County are much more likely to be sentenced to death than are defendants in other jurisdictions.

Baker, who is black, killed a white woman in Baltimore County.

"I thought at least that they would take the time to consider it," Michael Stark, an organizer with Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said of Baker's second appeal based on the Paternoster study.

In turning down the first such appeal from Baker in October, the Court of Appeals ruled that Maryland law does not allow a defendant to use "an empirical study" as the basis for a request that a death sentence be declared illegal.

Baker's attorneys filed another appeal asking the court to reopen his post-conviction proceedings to consider the argument.

"In the first decision, they made much of the fact of the procedural route," Stark said of the court's members. "I guess they wanted to close that loophole. But on the question of race, they seem to have nothing to say."

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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