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Morris might wear 'stun belt' at slaying trial

August 04, 2007|By DAVID DISHNEAU

ELLICOTT CITY, MD. - A state prison inmate who is charged with first-degree murder in the January 2006 slaying of a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer might be forced to wear an electric "stun belt" during his trial to prevent another courtroom escape attempt, a judge said Friday.

The remote-control shocking devices have been used successfully at federal trials to restrain troublesome defendants, said Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, representing defendant Brandon T. Morris. Tuminelli said the unobtrusive belt would be invisible to jurors, unlike handcuffs and leg irons, and therefore wouldn't jeopardize Morris' right to a fair trial by potentially creating a perception of guilt.

Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said he would consider the stun belt, as well as other safeguards proposed by prosecutors, in drafting a security plan for the trial, which likely will start in early November.

Morris, 21, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and other counts in the slaying of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten. Wroten died Jan. 27, 2006, a day after he was shot in the face in a Washington County Hospital room where he was guarding Morris.

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Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Morris is convicted on any of the first-degree murder counts.

On May 31, an unrestrained Morris tried to run toward the door of Sweeney's courtroom during jury selection, starting a melee that left two prospective jurors and two sheriff's deputies slightly injured. Sweeney postponed the trial and recused himself, except for certain pretrial proceedings.

Sweeney announced Friday that retired Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck will preside at Morris' trial. Although Manck will make the final decisions about trial security, Sweeney will draft a preliminary plan "that hopefully will provide as fair a trial as can be provided, given the circumstances."

Sweeney warned Morris that he could be barred from the courtroom for any further disruptions.

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