Attorneys ask court to strike death penalty in Morris case

August 03, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Calling Maryland's death penalty by lethal injection "cruel and unusual punishment," Brandon Morris' attorneys asked Friday that the court strike the death penalty as a sentencing option if their client is convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a correctional officer.

The motion and related motions to strike the death penalty were filed Friday among about 50 motions by Michael Morrissette and Eric Reed, public defenders representing Morris, who faces the death penalty if he is convicted of any of three first-degree murder counts in the Jan. 27 death of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.

A hearing on the death penalty-related motions has been set for Sept. 20 in Washington County Circuit Court. Morris' trial is to begin Oct. 23.

None of the motions filed Friday sought that the trial for Morris be moved to another county, an automatic right afforded Morris since he faces the death penalty.


According to the motion to strike the notice of the death penalty, Morris' attorneys say lethal injection "presents a grave risk of resulting in tortuous death." The Maryland Court of Appeals, according to the motion, is considering the stayed execution of death row prisoner Vernon Evans for that reason.

Attorneys cited other states that have enacted moratoriums on executions to consider pain and lingering consciousness associated with the administration of lethal injection.

They cite in the motion botched executions, including the 1988 Texas execution of Raymond Landry, who was pronounced dead 40 minutes after he was strapped into the execution gurney.

The Maryland Division of Correction's procedures for administering the lethal dose - using three chemicals - "often causes inmates to consciously suffer an excruciatingly painful and protracted death," attorneys said in the motion.

An attachment to the motion includes a study of Maryland's death penalty system that found the "two most important factors influencing the implementation of the death penalty system in Maryland are race and geography and not the seriousness of the crime itself," according to court documents.

A defendant is "two to three times more likely to receive a death sentence for killing a white person than he is had he killed a person of any other race," the motion, citing the study, states.

Morris is black. Wroten is white.

Wroten, 44, was guarding Morris, 20, in a Washington County Hospital room when he was shot once in the face with his weapon at about 5 a.m. Jan. 26. Police have alleged Morris overpowered Wroten, shot him and briefly took a hospital visitor hostage before hijacking a taxi that was waiting for another fare outside.

Morris was caught by police about an hour after the shooting on FedEx property north of Hagerstown after the taxi crashed near the Pennsylvania state line. Wroten died the next day.

Other motions filed Friday in Morris' defense include a motion requesting the jury list in advance of trial, a motion to limit victim impact testimony to one representative, a motion to limit victim impact evidence to the family and a motion to keep out information on Wroten's background and life history, according to court documents.

Know more in 30 seconds

The issue: Inmate Brandon Morris was indicted in the Jan. 26 shooting of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten. Wroten died Jan. 27, a day after he was shot in the face in a Washington County Hospital room where he was guarding Morris. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Morris is convicted of any of three first-degree murder counts against him. Morris has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

What's new: District Public Defender Michael Morrissette and Assistant Public Defender Eric Reed filed about 50 motions Friday, including a call for the removal of the death penalty as a sentencing option for Morris.

What's next: Attorneys will argue death penalty-related motions Sept. 20. Morris' trial is set to begin Oct. 23 in Washington County.

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