Prison killing suspects could face death penalty

Both are serving life terms for murders committed as teens

July 28, 2006|By GADI DECHTER AND GREG GARLAND | GADI DECHTER AND GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTERS

The two inmates charged in Tuesday's fatal stabbing of correctional officer David McGuinn are serving life sentences for first-degree murders committed as teenagers. Now they could face the death penalty, prosecutors investigating the attack said yesterday.

Kristen Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said several aggravating factors can open the door to capital punishment.

"If someone is serving a life sentence and they commit a murder, that's an aggravating factor," Riggin said. "If someone is already incarcerated, that's an aggravating factor. If someone kills a law enforcement official, that's an aggravating factor."

Lee E. Stephens, 27, and Lamarr C. Harris Jr., 35, were 17 and 18, respectively, when they committed the crimes that landed them at the maximum-security Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, where McGuinn was stabbed.

Harris is serving three life sentences, plus time for a weapons violation, for participating in an execution-style murder of two people in a South Baltimore park in August 1989.

Stephens is serving a life sentence plus 15 years for the April 1997 murder of DeWayne Holbrook outside The Pit, a south Salisbury nightclub, said Lt. Cheryl Rantz, a Salisbury police spokeswoman.

"Stephens had several previous convictions, including one for possession of a handgun," said Wicomico County prosecutor Davis Ruark. "But there were no other crimes of violence, nothing I'd characterize as serious prior to Holbrook's death. I guess he hit a big one as a very young man."

In more than 15 years behind bars, Harris has been convicted of additional violent crimes at least twice. In 1996, he pleaded guilty to battery in an assault on a correctional officer, for which a year was added to his sentence. In 2001, he was convicted of second-degree assault on a fellow inmate.

Correspondence from Harris to corrections officials indicates that he was transferred in early 2005 from the House of Correction Annex to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, also known as Supermax.

In a petition to reverse the transfer, Harris claimed that he and 14 other men had been "arbitrarily subjected to an `emergency transfer.'" He said prison officials later told him that the transfer resulted from several consecutive days of stabbings in early February 2005 in which he was a suspect.

Harris was still appealing his transfer as of April 2005. It was not clear from the court papers when or why he was transferred out of Supermax - the system's most restrictive prison - to the House of Correction.

More details also emerged yesterday about McGuinn. His colleagues said he didn't talk much about his private life and they knew little about him, other than that he was from New Jersey and had a girlfriend in the Baltimore area.

Erika Ballard, a former correctional dietary officer who went through a six-week academy program with McGuinn in January 2004, said he never told classmates where in Baltimore he lived.

Ballard said she admired McGuinn's commitment but found that at times he could be indifferent to the risks of prison life.

"A lot of people didn't like working with him because he would put himself in dangerous situations," she said.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com greg.garland@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Chris Guy, Julie Bykowicz and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.