At 19, Susan Carole Kennedy kept a hope chest filled with pots and pans, and salt and pepper shakers. She was looking ahead to married life with her high school sweetheart. She even had an apartment building picked out, her fiance recalled.
Kennedy wasn't supposed to be working the desk that afternoon at Pikesville's Warren House Motor Hotel. She was filling in for her older sister -- a federal witness with a price on her head.
A man with a machine pistol arrived to carry out the hit.
"This guy really just destroyed this family," Keith Rice said last week as the convicted gunman's execution date neared. Rice and Kennedy were to have been married that summer, in 1983.
"I've managed to recover -- I have a lovely family and kids," he said. "But what he did to the Kennedy family, he just shredded it. It was just a shell of a family after he did what he did."
Vernon Lee Evans Jr., convicted of killing Kennedy and her sister's husband, David Scott Piechowicz, is scheduled to be executed sometime during the five-day period that began at 12:01 a.m. today. Anthony Grandison, the drug lord convicted of ordering the contract killings, is also on death row.
They are facing the ultimate punishment for a crime that is recalled for its ruthlessness more than two decades later and is described as a precursor to the witness intimidation problem that afflicts the Baltimore area.
"It's one of those unique cases that will never be duplicated, hopefully, in our lifetime. It's gut-wrenching from everybody's standpoint," said David B. Irwin, a Baltimore defense lawyer who in 1983 was a federal prosecutor who worked on Evans' state and federal cases. "It was the first time that we'd lost federal witnesses in my memory. It was an institution-shaking crime."
Kennedy's sister, Cheryl Ann Piechowicz, who testified against Grandison, was asked several years after the killings whether she would be a federal witness again.
"Absolutely not," she told The Evening Sun in April 1988. "I'm almost ashamed to say that. I really am, because I want to keep the respect that I have for the criminal justice system. But I would have a sister and a husband if I could go back."
Cheryl Piechowicz was 38 when she died in 1998 of complications from a birth defect in her brain.
The killings are the oldest crimes for which the convicted murderers remain on Maryland's death row. Many of the victims' immediate relatives have died, according to prosecutors.
Cheryl Piechowicz and her husband, Scott, had been key witnesses in a federal drug investigation of Grandison, one of Baltimore's most notorious narcotics traffickers.
Court documents and news accounts from the time describe a case whose origins have been traced to a motel room key, and whose prosecution relied on a woman who said she was given the task of scouting the victims.
When Grandison was arrested on a parole violation in 1982, he was found with a key to Room 219 at the Warren House Motel.
Cheryl Piechowicz, then 23, identified Grandison as having been a guest in that room, where authorities later found luggage containing 4 ounces of high-grade heroin and a pound of cocaine.
She and her husband testified before a grand jury, and they were to be called as witnesses at Grandison's trial in May 1983. Kennedy had also been listed as a witness, but Cheryl Piechowicz later said that her sister never saw Grandison.
But on April 26, 1983, a week before the trial was to begin in federal court, Grandison was visited by Evans at the Baltimore City jail. Evans' girlfriend, Charlene Sparrow, later told FBI agents that after meeting with Grandison, Evans told her they were going to a motel on Reisterstown Road. When Sparrow asked Evans whether he "was going up there to kill somebody," he replied, "Yeah," according to court records.
Evans later told his girlfriend that he would be paid $9,000 "if he knocked both of them off," Sparrow testified at trial.
She said she rented a room at the Warren House and, at Evans' direction, scouted the lobby for "the white couple." On the day of the killings, she told Evans that the couple she thought were the Piechowiczes were at the front desk. But Cheryl Piechowicz had called in sick that day and asked her sister to work for her.
Sparrow went to wait in a car, where Evans later handed her a still-smoking weapon and told her to wipe it down.
Piechowicz and Kennedy had been sprayed with 17 bullets from an Ingram MAC-11 submachine pistol with a silencer.
Evans has said that he served as a lookout and gun courier in the hit but denies being the triggerman.
Sparrow entered the federal witness protection program, Baltimore County prosecutor John Cox said.
Cheryl Piechowicz testified at Grandison's trial a week after her husband and sister were killed.
"I feel so guilty," Cheryl Piechowicz told The Evening Sun after the killings. "I told my parents I'm sorry. It shouldn't have been Sue who was shot. It should have been me. I wish it was me."