Opponents protest as execution nears

Group gathers at governor's home to halt death set for early Dec.


Just nine days before convicted killer Wesley Eugene Baker could be executed for the 1991 shooting of a Baltimore County woman, death penalty opponents gathered outside the governor's mansion in Annapolis yesterday to protest the scheduled execution and call for an end to capital punishment in Maryland.

"We're here to tell the governor that there are no throwaway people, that cold-blooded killing by the state is no better than cold-blooded killing by a professional murderer, by a thug in an alley or by a resident of Iraq," Terry Fitzgerald, an organizer with the Baltimore Campaign to End the Death Penalty, shouted to the nearly 30 protesters outside Government House.

The demonstration was the first in a series of events that death penalty opponents have organized leading up to the week of Dec. 5, when Baker is scheduled to die by lethal injection.

The schedule includes a prayer service Thursday night at St. Vincent DePaul Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore, a protest Saturday afternoon outside the Supermax prison in Baltimore that houses death row inmates and a gathering Thursday evening at the city's First Unitarian Church during which another death row inmate, Vernon Evans, is expected to call in from prison.

Baker, 47, was convicted in 1992 of killing Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide who was shot in the head and robbed of her purse in front of two of her grandchildren outside Westview Mall. Baker was initially scheduled to be executed the week of May 13, 2002. But on May 9, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions while a study of Maryland's use of the death penalty was completed.

The University of Maryland study found "no evidence that the race of the defendant matters in the processing of capital cases," but that statistically, black defendants who killed whites were the most likely to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death in Maryland. Baker is black; his victim was white.

Researchers 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 defendants in other jurisdictions.

Protesters made reference to the study's findings yesterday.

As state workers hung red bows on the fence that encircles Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s official residence, they chanted, "Hey Ehrlich, just face it, death row is racist." They carried signs that characterized the state's use of capital punishment as "proven arbitrary" and "proven racist."

The demonstration attracted a broad spectrum of activists, from ministers and Green Party members to the relatives of both murder victims and convicted murderers. After standing on Church Circle, where they asked passing motorists to sign petitions against the death penalty, the group marched around State Circle to Lawyers Mall, where they took turns shouting messages in the direction of the governor's mansion.

"I stand as a minister of the Gospel," boomed the Rev. James W. McEachin Jr., pastor of the Corner Rock Ministries in West Baltimore. "The Bible says, `Thou shall not kill.' That includes the state."

Bonnita Spikes, a member of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions who lives in Beltsville, said she attended the protest to show that "all murder victims' families do not want the death penalty." Spikes' husband, Michael, was killed 11 years ago during a convenience store robbery.

"Killing is wrong, morally wrong, and it's too flawed to fix. It affects my race more than any other," said Spikes, who is African-American, "and that offends me."

Greg Massoni, a spokesman for the governor, said in a telephone interview that Ehrlich was out of town yesterday and did not see the protest.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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