Death row inmate's lawyers seek to overturn conviction

December 02, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

As the state prepares to execute convicted murderer Wesley Eugene Baker next week, lawyers for the seven other men facing death sentences in Maryland continue their courtroom battles.

Lawyers for death row inmate John Booth-El, who was convicted of murdering a Pimlico couple 22 years ago, argued yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court for the opportunity to challenge Booth-El's conviction based on a 2003 study that showed race and geography were significant factors in imposing death sentences in Maryland.

Booth-El, who is black, is one of at least five death row inmates who have referred to the study in appealing for clemency.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on John Booth-El misstated the purpose of Thursday's Baltimore City Circuit Court hearing. He is seeking to vacate the death sentence. The article also incorrectly reported that Cardinal William H. Keeler has met with the family of Wesley Eugene Baker. Keeler met only with Baker.

Michael Millemann, lead defense attorney for Booth-El, sought yesterday to reopen the case based on the University of Maryland study by professor Raymond Paternoster. The study found that defendants accused of killing white victims were most likely to be charged with capital murder and, if convicted, more likely to be sentenced to die than were people charged with killing minorities.

Millemann said black convicted murderers in Baltimore are 18 times more likely to be given the death sentence than are their white counterparts.

Judge Kaye A. Allison gave defense attorneys 90 days to file briefs supporting their argument.

Booth-El, 52, was sentenced to death for the 1983 killings of 78-year-old Irwin Bronstein and his wife Rose, 75, who were white. Booth-El has had his death sentence vacated and reinstated four times since he was sentenced in 1984.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Annabelle L. Lisic said Booth-El's argument has been rejected by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which denied a similar race-based argument in Baker's case this year. Proceeding with the motion would be a "monumental waste" of the court's resources, Lisic argued.

"To me, that is a clear signal that the Court of Appeals sees no merit on that issue," Lisic said.

Baker, 47, is scheduled to die by injection next week for the 1991 murder of Jane Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide who was robbed of her purse and shot in the head in front of two of her grandchildren outside a Baltimore County mall.

Baker's case has gained considerable attention from death penalty opponents, who this week unveiled an advertising campaign aimed at pressuring Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to commute his sentence. Most notably, Cardinal William H. Keeler appealed to Ehrlich for clemency in the case after meeting with Baker and his family.

At yesterday's hearing for Booth-El, the victims' children, Phyllis Bricker and Barry Bronstein, said they were frustrated at delays in the execution and dismayed that the issue of race has entered the fray. Both said they would approve of a death penalty sentence for their parents' killer no matter the race of the offender.

"For them to bring up a racial issue 22 years later is almost obscene," Bricker said. "It is obscene."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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