State opposes Evans hearings

Claims by man sentenced to death in '83 killings cover old ground, prosecution argues

April 04, 2006|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

In a brief filed yesterday with Maryland's highest court, lawyers for the state argued that death row inmate Vernon Lee Evans Jr. is not entitled to any of the hearings that his attorneys have requested or an injunction against state executions because the issues raised in his most recent legal challenges have been settled during 12 years of appeals.

Lawyers with the attorney general's office also urged the court to dismiss two of Evans' claims on procedural grounds. The 75-page brief was submitted to the Court of Appeals yesterday - the filing deadline set by the court when it halted the convicted killer's scheduled execution Feb. 6 to hear his legal challenges.

Evans' lawyers have asked the court for a hearing to explore whether he was unfairly sentenced to death because of the policy of Baltimore County's top prosecutor, as well as statewide racial and geographic disparities in the use of capital punishment; a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the attorneys who represented him at a 1992 sentencing hearing failed to provide effective counsel; and a new trial, arguing that a prosecutor unconstitutionally stripped the jury of nearly all African-Americans at Evans' 1984 trial.

The defense attorneys also asked for an injunction barring executions in Maryland until the state's lethal injection procedures are rewritten.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for next month.

Evans, 56, was sentenced to death for the 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel employees, David Scott Piechowicz and his wife's sister, Susan Kennedy. Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, had been scheduled to testify in a federal drug case against Baltimore drug lord Anthony Grandison, who was convicted of offering Evans $9,000 to kill the witnesses.

In their brief, lawyers with the attorney general's office focus much of their rebuttal on Evans' claim that his previous lawyers failed to investigate his abusive childhood and that presenting such evidence might have persuaded at least one juror to vote against sentencing him to death. Lawyers for the state offered a summary of Evans' sentencing hearings in 1984 and 1992.

"Both sentencing counsels' strategies were reasonable at the time the decisions to pursue each of them was made," the state lawyers wrote. "That there may be a third approach to sentencing in Evans' case does not make any other approach deficient."

Of a psychosocial evaluation offered by Evans' attorneys as evidence of the abuse that previous lawyers failed to uncover, the state's counsel wrote, "Shorn of its melodrama and hyperbole, [the report] does not show that Evans `grew up in a toxic household characterized by chronic conflict, predictable violence and hopeless despair,'" as Evans' lawyers have argued.

Rather, the state's attorneys wrote, the evaluation shows that Evans' parents had marital difficulties, that his father was a "tough disciplinarian who, not unlike many parents in the '50s, resorted to use of a belt for punishment," and that "not unlike many father-son relationships, Evans, the only son, and his father had an ambivalent relationship."

The state's lawyers also point out that an incident characterized by Evans' current lawyers as his attempt, at age 10, to commit suicide to escape an unhappy life was described by Evans' mother to his previous lawyers as a drug overdose when Evans began using drugs.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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