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Closing arguments expected today in Morris sentencing phase

Judge plans to sentence correctional officer's killer Monday

Judge plans to sentence correctional officer's killer Monday

January 24, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - Edward "EJ" Green, 18, looked on Wednesday as his older brother - shackled, with his arms bound in front of him - was led into a Howard County Circuit courtroom. Watching correctional officers and deputies bring Brandon T. Morris into court, and later lead him away, is the hardest part about sitting through his brother's trial, Green said Wednesday afternoon.

Morris, 22, was convicted last week of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder during an escape and first-degree felony murder during a robbery, all counts for which the death penalty is a possible punishment.

Closing arguments are expected today in the sentencing phase of the trial. Judge Joseph P. Manck, a retired Anne Arundel County jurist who is hearing the case, said he will announce his decision Monday.

Morris shot Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., with the officer's gun during the early-morning hours of Jan. 26, 2006, at Washington County Hospital.

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Six defense witnesses took the stand Wednesday, including Hope M. Hill, a professor of psychology at Howard University who testified that Morris grew up in neighborhoods that police and residents compared to war zones.

"There is no way children can survive when they are in a community that constantly, constantly models death and destruction," Hill said.

Other witnesses discussed how a child's background can consist of risk factors that lead to violent behavior.

Caroline Long Burry, an associate professor at the University of Maryland school of social work, outlined a Department of Justice study that identified several risk factors in children's lives that predict a future of antisocial and violent behavior.

The defense is trying to show that the death penalty would be inappropriate for Morris because of mitigating factors including his background. Defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli has said that Morris was not on the same playing field as everyone else.

"We was exposed to a lot of violence," said Green, who noted that their mother was violent.

Several child-abuse reports were filed against Morris' mother, said a witness who presented Morris' social history.

Green no longer speaks with his mother, who has not been present for any portion of Morris' trial, he said.

"No support for Brandon Morris," Green said.

Green visited Morris at RCI the weekend before the incident at the hospital, he said. Morris didn't talk about what happened behind prison walls, but he was limping that weekend, Green said.

Lori Townes, a licensed clinical social worker, studied records and interviewed Morris and several family members, including Green, and assessed Morris' life between birth and 17 years old, she testified. She presented an extensive timeline of Morris' life.

Morris' father has spent most of his life in and out of Virginia's criminal justice system, and Morris, through most of his young life, stayed with his mother in some of Baltimore's most crime-infested neighborhoods, Townes testified.

Morris, Green, and their sister, Ashley Morris, all described growing up in poverty, eating corn flakes and macaroni and cheese, and living with rats in their home.

Morris was small for his age, and often was beat up, Townes testified. He tried to care for his younger siblings and would pick up spare change to buy food for his brother and sister, she said.

Morris completed the eighth grade, then went to Virginia because his mother said Morris' father wanted to raise him. His father still was in jail, and Morris moved from relative to relative, eventually living on the streets, Townes said.

"No one wanted custody," she said.

In 2001, he was charged with several crimes after he wandered into a store drunk and threatened to kill the store's owner and a police officer, Townes testified.

The boy returned to Baltimore, living in his mother's basement, and his behavior escalated. Morris later was charged with assault after an incident between he and his mother, and he punched a police officer who was called to that scene, Townes said.

Morris exhibited several of the risk factors outlined in the Department of Justice study, including poverty, exposure to violence and availability of drugs and firearms, Townes said.

Another witness explained why Morris' childhood matters.

"The choices made by adult offenders are derivative of the values, ideas and ethics learned during childhood," psychiatrist Dr. David Williamson said.

Morris was serving an eight-year sentence for assault, robbery and handgun convictions before the slaying. He was scheduled for release in May 2008.

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