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State's attorney awaits report

January 31, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Once the Washington County Office of the State's Attorney gets a police report on the investigation into a correctional officer's shooting death, it plans to decide charges and take its case to the grand jury, County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. said Monday.

Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten, 44, a four-year Maryland Division of Correction veteran and father of five, died Friday, a day after he was shot in the face, allegedly by the inmate he was guarding in a Washington County Hospital patient room.

The alleged gunman, Brandon Morris, 20, of Baltimore, was captured Thursday north of Hagerstown after police pursued the taxi he allegedly hijacked after the 5 a.m. shooting in a fifth-floor room.

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Morris remained held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, commonly known as Supermax, in Baltimore, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Spokesman Mark Vernarelli said Monday.

Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse said Monday, "The report is not even close to being sent over to the State's Attorney's Office."

The state police homicide unit is performing the criminal investigation and the Maryland Division of Correction Internal Investigative Unit is conducting an internal investigation.

When the investigations are complete, they will forward reports to the county state's attorney's office and Division of Correction administration, Rouse said.

He said it wouldn't be fair to speculate on charges before the report is complete.

"There's a lot of questions that need to be answered," Rouse said. "We want to be meticulous."

According to Maryland law, a defendant convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a correctional officer or police officer may be sentenced to death, provided certain legal circumstances are met, including notification by prosecutors of their intention to seek the death penalty.

Strong said Monday that since his office does not have the charges yet, he cannot say whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty in this case.

He said, "Any charges returned by the grand jury which carry with it a potential death sentence will be reviewed by us after indictment. We will look at the law and look at the facts as we see them and determine if it is death-penalty eligible."

Strong said prosecutors have met with state police investigators about the case and "have been updated continually, verbally on the matter in terms of potential charges."

He said his office has been involved "in this case since the beginning."

Strong said, "When we receive the written report from the investigation, we will review it and anticipate presenting it to a grand jury for charges."

Morris was serving an eight-year sentence, imposed in 2003, on assault, robbery and weapons convictions when he was taken to the hospital Wednesday for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition.

Vernarelli said he could not comment about what placed Morris in the hospital Wednesday.

The (Baltimore) Sun has reported that Morris' 2003 conviction stems from an incident in which Morris fired a gun three times at the head of a Fuddruckers restaurant manager. According to The Sun's Saturday story, the gun did not fire because of a weapon malfunction.

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