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Prosecution in Morris case would seek death penalty

March 23, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. filed notice Wednesday that he will seek the death penalty for Brandon Morris if a jury convicts the inmate of first-degree murder in the Jan. 26 shooting that resulted in the death of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten, according to court documents.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Tracey Wroten, Wroten's ex-wife, said, "My family fully supports that."

Morris, 20, who is being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, commonly known as Supermax, was indicted Feb. 22 by a Washington County grand jury on 36 counts, including three first-degree murder charges, in Wroten's Jan. 27 death.

The three death penalty-eligible charges Morris faces are one count of first-degree premeditated murder and two counts of first-degree felony murder. One felony count alleges Morris killed Wroten in the course of an escape; the other alleges he killed Wroten in the course of a robbery - the theft of Wroten's service revolver.

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Morris, who is being represented by three public defenders, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has requested a jury trial, which is scheduled to begin July 31 and last at least five days, according to court records.

Wroten was guarding Morris, then an RCI inmate, in a fifth-floor Washington County Hospital patient room when Morris allegedly used Wroten's .38-caliber service revolver to shoot him at close range in the face at about 5 a.m., according to published reports.

According to a bill of particulars, a document Strong filed Monday outlining his case against Morris, the inmate "crouched down over top" Wroten, who was lying on the floor and begging for his life, and allegedly shot the correctional officer in the left side of his face at close range.

Wroten died the next day at the hospital. The single bullet entered his jaw, his left internal carotid artery, cervical vertebra, spinal cord and brain stem, the bill of particulars states.

The sequence of events is not clear because no witnesses observed Morris taking the revolver, but the bill of particulars states that there was a struggle between the men and Morris allegedly "forcibly removed" Wroten's revolver, which had been secured in a holster by a snap.

Strong said Wednesday that prosecutors made the decision to seek the death penalty after reviewing the case and meeting with Wroten's family.

He said that he will not seek to have the case moved to another county.

If Morris' attorneys request the case be heard in another county, they would have the automatic right to have it moved since the death sentence notice has been filed, Strong said.

In a death penalty case, a defendant is first tried on the issues of guilt or innocence, he said. If a jury returns verdicts on any charges that carry the death penalty, there is a second hearing at which sentencing is determined.

Strong said he has not prosecuted a death penalty case before, but he has prosecuted several homicides.




Staff writer Candice Bosely contributed to this story.

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