Possibility of death penalty for Morris challenged

May 19, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN-The defense team for a Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate charged in the 2006 slaying of a correctional officer has filed a motion challenging the state's intent to seek the death penalty.

Brandon T. Morris, 21, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, assaulting a Department of Corrections employee, robbery, first-degree escape, using a handgun during a violent crime, disarming an officer and other counts in the slaying of Roxbury Correctional Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.

Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was shot in the face with his own gun while guarding Morris at Washington County Hospital on Jan. 26, 2006, police have said. Wroten died the next day.

In March 2006, Washington County prosecutors filed a notice of intent to execute Morris if he is convicted. Three months earlier, the Maryland Court of Appeals had ruled that parts of the written manual for Maryland's lethal-injection procedure hadn't been properly adopted and couldn't be used until the state's protocol for the procedure either is approved by a joint legislative committee or exempted by law from such a review.


A bill that would have exempted the state from the review was voted down in a House committee this year.

Morris' defense team filed the motion on May 2 in Howard County Circuit Court. According to the motion, the appeals court effectively eliminated the possibility of the death penalty in its ruling.

The prosecution filed opposition to the defense motion, saying the court did not strike down the death penalty or use of lethal injection, but said the death penalty could not be administered until the procedure was properly implemented.

Hearing set

A motions hearing to sort out the death penalty issue is set for May 25 in Howard County, a court clerk said.

Since Morris faces the death penalty, he has an automatic right to have his case tried in another county under the Maryland constitution.

Morris' attorneys previously had argued that pretrial publicity and a large number of employees at state prisons in the county and Washington County Hospital would prevent Morris from getting a fair trial here.

His trial was moved to Howard County after Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III granted Morris' request for a change of venue during a September 2006 motions hearing in Washington County Circuit Court.

Beginning May 31, potential jurors will be in court filling out a lengthy questionnaire as part of the procedure in place for death penalty trials, Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Michael said.

Jury selection begins June 4 and the state will begin presenting evidence June 11, Michael said.

The trial and sentencing are expected to take two weeks, Michael said.

Know more

The issue: Roxbury Correctional Institution Inmate Brandon T. Morris is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and other counts in the slaying of Roxbury Correctional Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten. Wroten died Jan. 27, 2007, 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 on any of the first-degree murder counts. Morris has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

What's new: The defense filed a motion on May 2 to strike the notice of intent to seek the death penalty. A motions hearing is set for May 25.

What's next: Jury selection for Morris' trial begins June 4 in Howard County. The state will begin presenting evidence June 11, with the trial and sentencing expected to take two weeks.

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