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Medical files opened

April 18, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

Brandon T. Morris stumbled out of a Maryland Division of Correction van, tripped on the shackles binding his feet and stood up, surrounded by men wearing the same uniform as the one worn by the man he is charged with killing.

Morris, 20, was transported Monday by correctional officers to Washington County Circuit Court from the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore for the first time since a grand jury indicted him Feb. 22 in the death of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.

During pretrial motions, prosecutors won access to Morris' hospital records. Assistant State's Attorney John B. Dunlap said the confidential records could shed light on Morris' state of mind, planning and motive for allegedly shooting Wroten with the officer's own gun Jan. 26 at Washington County Hospital, where the inmate had been admitted for a self-inflicted injury.

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Morris' public defenders argued the state was fishing for evidence.

"They're looking for something and they don't know what's there," Assistant Public Defender Eric A. Reed told Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright.

Wright granted the state's request for the hospital records and for Morris' Division of Correction case file - except for his mental health records. The judge also refused to grant access to Morris' Department of Juvenile Services files and public-school school records, ruling that prosecutors hadn't shown that the potential value of those documents to the state's case outweighed Morris' privacy rights.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael argued that the juvenile and school records would help the state prepare its arguments for sentencing, including the possibility of the death sentence.

Wright said, "You've got the cart before the horse. The death penalty before the conviction."

Morris' trial is scheduled to begin July 31 in Washington County and last at least five days. Because prosecutors have announced plans to seek the death penalty, Morris has the automatic right to have his trial moved to another county, but no request by his attorneys had been made by Monday.

Dunlap said the state alleges "a self-inflicted wound" was the reason Morris was taken from RCI on Jan. 25 to Washington County Hospital, where he was admitted. Dunlap said, "It goes to his motive, his planning ... What exactly was his form of treatment, his mental state at the time?"

Morris was serving an eight-year sentence for assault and weapons convictions when the shooting occurred. At that time, Denise Gelsinger, a public information officer at RCI, said Morris was scheduled to be released in November 2010.

Morris didn't speak during Monday's hearing. He hunched farther down into his chair throughout the hearing, and away from his attorneys as they whispered. At one point, he wrote with a pen - his right elbow awkwardly high - on a sheet of paper that remained in front of him.

Four correctional officers sat in the jury box in front of the defense table, watching him.

Among those in the courtroom were Wroten's ex-wife, Tracey Wroten; Roxbury Warden Roderick Sowers; and Frank Fultz, the Miller Transportation cab driver who Morris allegedly held at gunpoint and ordered to drive him from the hospital Jan. 26.

Fultz had lingered, watching the alley beside the courthouse, waiting for Morris to arrive Monday morning. Fultz said it was the first time he had seen Morris since Jan. 26.

Asked if he was scared seeing Morris again, Fultz said with wet eyes, "No, not really."

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