Thirteen years after he was convicted of shooting a woman to death at a Baltimore County mall while two of her grandchildren looked on, Wesley Eugene Baker was executed last night by lethal injection.
Baker, 47, was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m., making him the fifth person put to death in Maryland since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
Five reporters and four relatives of the victim, along with three lawyers and Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, witnessed Baker's last breaths.
The condemned man was secured to a steel table with brown leather straps, a sheet pulled up to his chin. Only his arms, face and thin braids were visible.
Baker's chest heaved as the chemicals were administered through two tubes in his left arm and one in his right. His breathing became rapid and so loud that it could be heard through the glass partition.
Gary W. Christopher and Franklin W. Draper, the public defenders who have represented Baker the longest, rose from their seats on the third row of bleachers. When Baker's body stopped moving, the lawyers sat down, draped their arms around each other's shoulders and hung their heads. Katy O'Donnell, a state public defender, wiped away tears.
Draper later whispered to O'Donnell, "I hope he finds the peace he never found in this world."
About 50 death penalty opponents protested the execution outside in light snow. Minutes before 9 p.m. they began to sing "Amazing Grace," and at the appointed execution time of 9 p.m., they broke into a variation on "This Little Light of Mine" - "All around death row, I'm going to let it shine."
Before the execution, Christopher visited Baker in Cell No. 2 of the Metropolitan Transition Center, the Baltimore prison that houses the state's death chamber.
"He's made his peace," said Christopher. "We just talked quietly. There was some joking, laughing, trying to inject a little bit of levity into the situation. But it didn't last long."
About 8 p.m. Gary W. Proctor, an attorney for Baker, told protesters that Baker had been with his mother, Delores Williams; his sister and brother; and a childhood friend. They talked about movies and chatted. When they were told they had to leave, Baker cried.
Lori James-Monroe, a social worker who aided Baker's legal defense, said that at the end of the visit, the guards permitted his mother to approach the cell.
Baker's last meal consisted of breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread and milk, a corrections spokesman said.
Martin E. Andree, the brother of Baker's victim, Jane Tyson, said last night by phone from his Florida home: "It's over for us and it's over for him. The wound will heal. Now, there won't be any more picking the scab. Every time there was an appeal, it was like peeling the scab off of the wound."
The last obstacles to the execution began to fall late yesterday afternoon, when the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected an emergency stay and the U.S. Supreme Court declined requests to review three unfavorable lower court rulings. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. denied a clemency appeal.
In a statement released just before the execution, Ehrlich said, "After a thorough review of the request for clemency, the facts pertinent to this petition, and the judicial opinions regarding this case, I decline to intervene."
"My sympathies tonight lie with the families of all those involved in this heinous and brutal crime," Ehrlich said. It is the second execution during his administration.
In the past few weeks, Baker's lawyers had stepped up the pace of more than 10 years of appeals, arguing that Maryland's death penalty is skewed by race and geography and that evidence of Baker's abusive and chaotic childhood in East Baltimore should have been introduced at the sentencing phase of his trial in 1992.
Cardinal William H. Keeler took the unusual step of visiting Baker on death row last week, appealing for mercy to Ehrlich, who signed Baker's death warrant a month ago. Keeler and other Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders yesterday joined to call for commutation of the death sentence.
Baker, who grew up in the Waverly area of Baltimore, was convicted in the murder and robbery of Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide at a Baltimore County elementary school. She was shot once in the head in the parking lot of the Westview Mall on the evening of June 6, 1991.
After shopping for shoes with two of her grandchildren that evening, Tyson helped the 6-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl into her Buick LeSabre, then settled in behind the wheel about 8:30 p.m.
The gunman appeared at her window, and the boy later told police he heard his grandmother scream "No" before she was shot.