Security tightened for murder trial

Man is charged in officer's death in escape attempt

January 06, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

The Howard County Sheriff's Office will take extra security measures for the capital murder trial this week of Brandon T. Morris, who attempted to flee a Howard County courtroom in May during jury-selection proceedings. His trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow in Howard County Circuit Court.

Morris, 22, of Baltimore is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of corrections officer Jeffery A. Wroten in January 2006 during an attempted escape from Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, where Morris had been taken for treatment of self-inflicted wounds. He had been serving a seven-year sentence for armed robbery and assault at Roxbury Correctional Institution.

In May, Morris tried to run out of a Howard County courtroom during a jury-selection hearing. His trial had been moved to Howard after his lawyers requested a change of venue.

For this week's trial, Morris will wear a stun device around his waist, and his feet will be shackled, said Howard County Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald. The sheriff's office is in charge of security at the courthouse.

A skirt will be placed around the table where Morris will be seated to prevent jurors from seeing the stun belt and the shackles, Fitzgerald said. In addition, Morris will use audio equipment to hear bench discussions involving lawyers and the judge. .

Although two sheriff's deputies are typically posted in a courtroom during a trial, additional deputies will be in the courtroom for Morris' trial, Fitzgerald said. He did not give an exact number.

"There will be more than adequate security on the outside of the courthouse, as well as the hallways of the courthouse and then interior of the courtroom," said Fitzgerald, who could not recall a case in recent Howard County history that required such additional security measures.

"Probably this is the highest-profile case we've had in recent history," he said.

Washington County prosecutors have requested the death penalty. A judge denied a motion from Morris' attorneys asking that the death penalty not be considered.

At a pretrial motions hearing last month, Morris wore a stun belt, and several extra sheriff's deputies were posted around the courtroom. Retired Anne Arundel County Judge Joseph P. Manck, who will preside over the trial, also agreed with attorneys that the jurors will walk in and out of the courtroom while Morris is still seated so that they won't be able to see the shackles and stun device.

Manck took over the case after then-Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney recused himself because of the attempted escape from his Ellicott City courtroom. At the December hearing, Manck ruled that Morris' attempted escape will not be admitted as evidence in the murder trial.

Two potential jurors and two sheriff's deputies suffered minor injuries in the courtroom in May when Morris was tackled to the ground.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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