Death sentence upheld in murder-for-hire case



In a 4-3 decision, Maryland's highest court upheld a death sentence yesterday for a drug kingpin convicted of hiring someone to kill two witnesses scheduled to testify against him in a federal narcotics case.

The Court of Appeals rejected three appeals from Anthony Grandison, who argued that Baltimore County prosecutors suppressed evidence favorable to his case, that Maryland's process for sentencing capital cases is flawed and that he was not eligible for the death penalty because he did not kill the witnesses.

Grandison and Vernon L. Evans Jr. were convicted and sentenced to death in the April 1983 killing of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville. Grandison was found guilty of paying Evans $9,000 to kill Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, who were witnesses in the drug case. Kennedy was working for her sister Cheryl that day, and prosecutors said at trial that they believed Evans mistook Kennedy for her sister on the day of the killings.

Four judges found no evidence that prosecutors had suppressed witness statements in Grandison's case or that the witness testimony would have changed the outcome of the trial. They also ruled that Maryland law is clear that a defendant convicted in a contractual murder is eligible for the death penalty.

The three dissenting judges -- Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and judges Irma S. Raker and Clayton Greene Jr. -- refer in their opinion only to Grandison's arguments regarding Maryland's capital sentencing procedures. Raker wrote that the three judges dissented for the same reasons they had laid out in previous similar cases.

In those cases, the judges agreed with death row inmates' arguments that judges or juries at sentencing should weigh mitigating factors, such as a defendant's troubled childhood, against aggravating factors, such as another felony committed along with a murder, by the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" before sentencing a convicted killer to death. Maryland law sets the standard of proof for such decisions at "by a preponderance of the evidence" -- a significantly lower legal threshold.

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