With little more than two weeks left before their client could be executed, lawyers for death row inmate Vernon Lee Evans Jr. filed a flurry of legal challenges this week in state and federal courts.
They challenged Maryland's lethal injection procedures in Baltimore Circuit Court and U.S. District Court, and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court's decision on the process used by Maryland jurors and judges at capital sentencing hearings. They also filed a request this month with Maryland's highest court for a stay of execution.
Evans, 56, was convicted in the April 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel clerks. The precise date and time of executions in Maryland are not announced, in accordance with state law. Instead, the death warrant signed Jan. 9 by a Baltimore County judge scheduled Evans' execution for the five-day period that begins Feb. 6.
Lawyers for Evans - along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and Maryland Citizens Against State Executions - filed a civil lawsuit in Baltimore yesterday challenging Maryland's lethal injection procedure. The execution protocols were never made available for public comment, as required by state law, the lawsuit says.
Evans' defense team also filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, challenging the execution procedures based on the U.S. constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
And they filed a petition yesterday with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to hear an appeal that argues 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 lower legal threshold.
The lawyers also have an appeal - filed in August in Baltimore County Circuit Court - pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals, asking that Evans' death sentence be overturned on the grounds that lawyers representing him at his 1992 sentencing hearing did not investigate his background or present such evidence to jurors.
Evans was paid $9,000 by drug kingpin Anthony Grandison to kill two witnesses scheduled to testify against him in a federal drug case. David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy were fatally shot at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville.