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Inmate has allies in bid for freedom

April 22, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

West Virginia Del. John Overington has met Wayne Alanson Foster just once. It was about 10 years ago, when Overington visited Foster at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, where Foster is serving a life sentence for murder.

Overington, R-Berkeley, said Foster made a good impression during that visit despite being stuck in a bad environment - part of the reason Overington is among several people lobbying for Foster's possible release.

Twenty years after he was convicted of murdering his wife, Foster is seeking a new sentence, one that could end his prison term and set him free.

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Foster, 55, has asked a three-judge panel to review his sentence of life plus 10 concurrent years.

The defense and the prosecution have until April 30 to submit their arguments. After then, the three-judge panel will decide whether to schedule a hearing, said Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III, chairman of the panel.

Sherry Foster was 28 when she was found dead in her disabled car on Md. 66 near Smithsburg on Oct. 6, 1981. She had five gunshot wounds.

Authorities say Wayne Foster planned his wife's murder after a long period of harassing her. When he tried to abduct her from an aerobics dance class one day, he shot her in the hand as they struggled.

When Sherry Foster's body was found, Wayne Foster fled to Colorado under an assumed identity he had already lined up. He was captured about a week later.

On April 19, 1982, a jury found Foster guilty of shooting and killing his wife.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III sentenced Foster to life in prison for murder, plus 15 consecutive years on a count of using a handgun during the commission of a felony.

At Foster's request, Wright changed the sentence on Feb. 27, 2002, to life in prison plus 10 concurrent years.

Wayne Foster has maintained that he didn't kill his wife.

'Model inmate'

Foster's attorney, Gregory Bannon, has gathered glowing recommendations from Foster's brother, some friends, a spiritual adviser, his current wife's landlord and a few people who know him from prison.

Letter writers referred to Foster as "a model inmate," "a dedicated family man committed to his loved ones," "mature and responsible," "an honest and forthright person," and "a good, caring man."

In his letter, Overington said Foster "should be allowed to re-enter society," possibly through parole.

"I found Wayne to be extremely respectful of authority and willing to abide by the laws set forth by the officials of our state," Overington wrote.

Overington is an outspoken advocate of the death penalty. He said his support for Foster doesn't betray that philosophy.

In fact, he suggested that Foster might have had better legal representation if death had been a possible penalty in his case.

Last year, Foster was denied a request for a new trial based on the claim that his original defense attorney, Paul Ottinger, was ineffective.

Years after representing Foster, Ottinger was convicted of mail fraud, bank fraud and forgery. He has since died.

An attorney who knew that "every mistake could be appealed and could throw the trial out" would be sharper, Overington said.

Family troubled

Kay Grissinger Himes, one of Sherry Foster's two younger sisters, was taken aback by the praise Wayne Foster has received, particularly from Overington. She suspects the delegate is trying to flex some political muscle.

"There are so many supporters of Wayne, which is so hard to believe," she said during a phone interview from her Harrisburg, Pa., home.

Himes opposes shortening Foster's sentence, which could lead to his release.

"It was a very awful crime," she said. "It was very cold-blooded. We really feel strongly that he shouldn't be excused this easily."

Another sister, Leslie Grissinger Geyer of Delray Beach, Fla., said it's difficult to rehash the heinous crime every time Foster returns to court, but she won't stop battling.

"I will be at every hearing," she said during a telephone interview. "It's the least we could do. ... I want him to know he's opposed every step of the way."

Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Michael, the prosecutor in the case, would not comment on Foster's application. However, in a written response he filed Friday, it's clear the state opposes any breaks for Foster.

"While free, the defendant shot his wife on two separate occasions," Michael wrote. "While imprisoned, the defendant has been a model prisoner. Therefore, the logical place for the defendant is prison, where he excels and does not shoot and murder innocent people."

Michael asks the three-judge panel to give Foster the maximum sentence.

"For the price that he exacted from Sherry Foster, from this community, and especially the surviving members of the Grissinger family," Michael wrote, "the defendant's current sentence is far deficient."

Michael attached several letters from people urging the judges to keep Wayne Foster locked up. Most are from Grissinger family members.

Conflicting pleas

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