Convicted killer's lawyers seek to overturn sentence

June 22, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Lawyers representing death row inmate Vernon L. Evans Jr. have asked a Baltimore County judge to overturn the convicted killer's sentence, arguing that a juror in his case was biased.

Evans' attorneys argued yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court that a new sentencing hearing was warranted because a member of the jury that sentenced Evans had said before being selected that he wanted to be on the panel because he thought Evans should be executed.

Prosecutors said evidence did not support that claim, and they argued that no new sentencing hearing should be granted.

The defense lawyers' request is one of several legal challenges being undertaken in an effort to save their client's life. Late last year, a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling on one of those challenges led to a de facto moratorium on executions in the state.

Last month in county Circuit Court, Raynette Fiorentino, a potential juror who was ultimately not selected to decide Evans' 1992 sentencing, testified that a juror, whom she identified as James Stewart, had privately said that he wanted to be part of the jury because he wanted Evans to get the death penalty. Stewart denied making the comments and said that he was unbiased at the May hearing, lawyers in the case said.

She said that she had told a court official about the comment soon after it happened, but got in contact with Evans' attorneys last year when she realized that he was on death row and read his blog. She later identified Stewart through a photo, said A. Stephen Hut, an attorney representing Evans.

Hut asked Administrative Judge John Grason Turnbull Jr. for a new sentencing hearing with a new jury, or to at least reopen the post-conviction proceedings.

"A defendant in a criminal case, and especially in a capital case, deserves a jury of 12 impartial members," Hut said in his closing argument yesterday.

Prosecutor John Cox denied that the juror was biased.

Another dismissed juror, William McHoul, testified yesterday that he would have been in the same small room as Fiorentino and Stewart but did not recall hearing anyone make biased statements.

Evans, 57, was sentenced to death for the 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel workers, David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy. Piechowicz and his wife had been scheduled to testify against a Baltimore drug lord in federal court.

In December, Maryland's Court of Appeals ordered a halt to executions in the state, ruling that the state's lethal injection procedures had never been submitted to the legislative oversight and public scrutiny mandated by law.

Evans' lawyers also have pursued a federal court challenge to Maryland's lethal injection process.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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