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Prosecutor: Death penalty argument is 'premature'

August 15, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

Brandon Morris' defense attorneys' contention that the Maryland death penalty method by lethal injection is "cruel and unusual punishment" is a "premature" argument, Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong said in a response to one of about 50 motions defense attorneys filed in late July.

Prosecutors on Friday filed responses to the motions filed July 28 by defense attorneys for Brandon Morris, 20, an inmate who faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the Jan. 26 shooting of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.

Death penalty-related motions are set to be heard Sept. 20 in Washington County Circuit Court. Morris' trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 23.

Strong has issued a notice of the state's intention to seek the death penalty if Morris is convicted on any of three death penalty-eligible, first-degree murder counts.

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"Our position on the death penalty has not been altered," Strong said Friday.

It takes an average of 18 years for a person sentenced to death in Maryland to actually be executed, he said.

"This is why you have to sit down with the survivors and have that long discussion," he said. "It's only fair to discuss with them the reality of the consequences of filing the death notice."

He said he would only go forward with the death penalty "with the concurrence of the survivors," who, in this case, support seeking it.

In the response to the defense's motion to declare lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment, Strong said the Court of Appeals has "directly addressed and rejected" the unconstitutionality of the state's death sentence. Strong also said the issue raised by Morris' attorneys, District Public Defender Michael Morrissette and Assistant Public Defender Eric Reed, about the method of execution "is premature prior to the actual imposition of the death sentence."

Attorneys for Morris supplemented their motions with a study of the state's death penalty, which states race and geography are the "two most important factors influencing the implementation" of the death penalty in Maryland. Strong, in his response, said Morris, through his attorneys, "never asserts that the geographic location of the alleged crime was a factor in the state's decision to seek the death penalty."

Wroten, 44, died Jan. 27, a day after he was shot in the face with his Division of Correction-issued .38-caliber revolver in a Washington County Hospital room while guarding Morris, a Roxbury inmate who was hospitalized there to have an object - a sewing needle - removed from his liver.

Police allege Morris overpowered Wroten at about 5 a.m. Jan. 26, shot him and briefly took a hospital visitor hostage before hijacking a taxi waiting for another fare outside the hospital. Morris, wearing only boxer shorts, was apprehended about an hour later on FedEx property north of Hagerstown after the taxi crashed near the Pennsylvania state line.

Morris is being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, commonly called Supermax, in Baltimore. He was serving an eight-year sentence for 2003 convictions on first-degree assault, robbery with a deadly weapon and handgun violations at Roxbury when he was hospitalized.




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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: Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong on Friday filed responses to about 50 motions filed in late July by Morris' attorneys, District Public Defender Michael Morrissette and Assistant Public Defender Eric Reed, who called 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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