Officer said to plead with shooter

March 21, 2006|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

Lying on the floor, a correctional officer pleaded for his life before the prisoner he was earlier guarding at a Hagerstown hospital fired a bullet into his face, according to court papers filed yesterday.

Drawing from an eyewitness account, the filing by Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. provides new details of what happened Jan. 26 in Washington County Hospital, where Officer Jeffery A. Wroten was shot about 5:10 a.m. He died a day later.

The court papers were filed in response to questions raised by defense lawyers for Brandon Morris, 20, of Baltimore, the inmate accused of shooting Wroten.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions about slain correctional officer Jeffery A. Wroten incorrectly stated that Herman L. Toulson, an officer killed in 1984, was the father of five children. It is Wroten who was the father of five.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Strong described Wroten being knocked to the ground by Morris and said that a nurse, responding to the noise of the scuffle, witnessed the shooting.

But the court filing left unanswered how Morris got free of his restraints, enabling him to attack Wroten and take his gun.

"The state is unable to answer this question with any particularity, as only inmate Morris currently knows this information, and inmate Morris has not disclosed how he came to be unrestrained," Strong wrote in his response to defense lawyers.

Under state prison policies, inmates under guard are supposed to be shackled to hospital beds. However, restraints are sometimes removed for an inmate to use the bathroom or when a doctor orders removal for medical reasons.

Strong described Wroten lying on the floor at the foot of Morris' bed, leaning on his right elbow with his left arm raised, as Morris crouched over top of him and pointed the gun at the left side of Wroten's face.

"Inmate Morris stated, `I'm going to kill you. ... ' Officer Wroten begged, `Please don't, please don't,' repeatedly. Inmate Morris then shot Officer Wroten in the left side of his face at close range," Strong wrote.

According to Strong, Morris then went to a nearby room and pointed the gun at a female visitor's head, demanding her keys and purse and briefly dragging her from the room and down a hallway before releasing her.

Once he made his way outside, Morris climbed into the back of a taxi that was parked near the visitors entrance, pointed the gun at the driver's head and ordered him to drive off, Strong wrote.

The inmate was back in custody less than an hour after the shooting when the cab crashed while being pursued by police. Authorities have said that Morris was in the hospital to be treated for what they believe to have been a self-inflicted injury, a sewing needle jammed into his abdomen.

Morris was found delinquent as a juvenile in 2002 after assaulting a police officer, according to Strong's legal filings, and he pleaded guilty the next year to an armed robbery of a restaurant in Baltimore.

He also was sentenced separately to 15 years in prison in Virginia for robbery with a deadly weapon and assault and battery, Strong wrote.

Wroten, 44, who worked at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, was the third Maryland correctional officer to be killed in the line of duty in the past century and the first since 1984, when Herman L. Toulson was stabbed by an inmate in the south wing of the former Maryland Penitentiary. Toulson was the father of five.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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