Death penalty is sought in killing of guard

October 07, 2006|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,sun reporter

Anne Arundel County prosecutors will seek the death penalty for two prisoners charged in the stabbing death of a correctional officer inside the Maryland House of Correction in July, the county state's attorney announced yesterday.

The decision was made after consulting with prosecutors, Maryland State Police investigators and the family of David McGuinn, the 42-year-old correctional officer who was killed the night of July 25.

"The family is very supportive of the death penalty in this case," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

Charged in the killing are Lee E. Stephens, 27 and Lamarr C. Harris, 35, who both have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

They currently are serving life sentences in other cases and both have pleaded not guilty.

Weathersbee said there are several aggravating factors in the case that make it eligible for the death penalty: the killing took place in prison; the accused are serving life sentences; and the case involves the killing of a law enforcement officer. He added that the state must prove that both accused men wielded the knife that was used to kill McGuinn.

In a news conference held at his office, Weathersbee said he hopes that seeking the death penalty in this case will serve to deter crime against correctional officers, and he denied that seeking the death penalty in this case was politically motivated.

Weathersbee, a four-term Democrat, is up for re-election. His challenger is Republican David W. Fischer, a criminal defense attorney.

"If it was about the election, I would have waited until a week before the election" to make the announcement, Weathersbee said. Instead, his office's decision comes about two months after Stephens and Lee were indicted, which is the typical amount of time it takes to reach such a decision, he said.

Fischer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ron Bailey, executive director of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, the union that represents Maryland correctional officers, said he is pleased with the decision to seek the death penalty and also hopes that it acts as a deterrent.

"I'm hoping this will send a message that correctional officers are not and will not be a target," he said. "The message has to go out: If you inflict harm or death to a correctional officer, this is what you can expect. You can expect the death penalty."

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