Death sentence sought in killing

Inmate accused of shooting correctional officer at Hagerstown hospital

March 23, 2006|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

Washington County's top prosecutor said yesterday that he will seek the death penalty for a prison inmate who is accused of killing a correctional officer at a Hagerstown hospital.

State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. filed notice in Circuit Court that he will seek to have the inmate, Brandon Morris, put to death for the killing of Jeffery A. Wroten.

The death penalty applies because Morris, 20, "committed the murder in furtherance of an escape" and because of other aggravating circumstances, the prosecutor wrote.

Strong said he spoke with Wroten's family before making the decision because he wanted to make sure they understood that death penalty cases are often long, involved and intense.

"If successful at the trial level, these cases can involve many, many years of appeals and other challenges," Strong said. He said his decision "is consistent with the evidence and with the support of the family."

Morris, of Baltimore, is accused of shooting Wroten in the face at Washington County Hospital on Jan. 26 as the officer lay on the floor, pleading for his life. The 44-year-old Wroten, who worked at Roxbury Correctional Institution, died the next day.

Morris was being treated at the hospital for what authorities have said they believe was a self-inflicted injury - a sewing needle jammed into his abdomen. Wroten had been assigned to guard him.

Attorney Michael R. Morrissette, the public defender who represents Morris, declined to comment yesterday on Strong's decision. "The Office of the Public Defender would prefer to do its talking in the courtroom," he said.

In Maryland, both sides in a death penalty case have an automatic right to have a case tried in a different venue from where the crime occurred - a right the defense is expected to exercise in the high-profile Morris case.

According to court papers Strong filed this week, authorities have not been able to determine how Morris got free of his restraints, enabling him to knock Wroten to the floor and take his weapon from him.

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.

A nurse responding to the noise of the scuffle arrived to find Morris crouched on top of Wroten, and saw the inmate fire the gun in Wroten's face at close range, according to court papers.

Authorities have said Morris fled the hospital in a taxi he allegedly commandeered at gunpoint. He was captured less than an hour later.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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