In court, Morris apologizes to Wroten's family

Inmate to be sentenced Monday for correctional officer's murder

Inmate to be sentenced Monday for correctional officer's murder

January 25, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. ? Convicted murderer Brandon T. Morris apologized to the family of his victim Thursday afternoon in Howard County Circuit Court.

Morris addressed the judge, making an unsworn statement before court adjourned. Judge Joseph Manck must now consider whether he will sentence the inmate to death or to life in prison.

"If I could change what happened, I would," Morris said as he stood at the defense table reading a prepared statement.

Morris shot Roxbury Correctional 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.


Morris had been taken to the hospital after he stuck a needle in his liver, according to testimony at his trial. He was serving an eight-year sentence for assault and robbery.

The defense announced Tuesday that it chose Manck, and not the Howard County Circuit Court jury that convicted Morris last week on three counts of first-degree murder, to decide the sentence. The state and defense then presented witness testimony and other evidence during the sentencing phase of Morris' trial.

The judge is expected to announce his decision Monday at 9:30 a.m. Manck is a retired Anne Arundel County judge.

Morris says he has accepted responsibility

Wroten's younger sister and ex-wife, also the mother of his four daughters, were present in the courtroom as Morris spoke. Both women sat through Morris' trial, and both have testified.

Morris said he accepted responsibility for what he did, and told the judge he will have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life.

Morris met with a member of his three-man defense team, Harun Shabazz, who helped him put the statement in grammatically correct language, defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said Thursday after court proceedings.

The trial was moved from Washington County to Howard County at the request of the defense.

Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael called Morris' statement "hollow words" and said it should not have any effect on the court's decision. The state had the right to respond to Morris' statement.

Earlier in court proceedings Thursday, Michael spoke in favor of the death penalty.

Michael had no desire to end another individual's life, but must follow the law as it is written, he said.

Prosecutor discusses aggravating factors

The prosecutor discussed the aggravating factors of Morris' crime, which must outweigh any mitigating factors for Morris to be sentenced to death.

Morris was the principal, in fact the only, person involved in the first-degree murder and the fatal shooting that occurred during the course of a robbery and escape, which made him eligible for the death penalty.

The jury found Morris guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder during a robbery and first-degree felony murder during an escape.

The case's aggravating factors, including that Morris killed a law-enforcement officer while in the custody of the Division of Correction, automatically outweigh any mitigating factors because none of the seven recognized mitigators apply to Morris, he said.

A defendant's lack of a criminal record, mental impairment, youthful age and lack of future danger are among the mitigating factors recognized by Maryland.

Morris poses a future danger to the Division of Correction, according to the prosecution. The man has a history of escape, including from a Virginia youth facility years ago, and has assaulted law enforcement officers multiple times, the prosecutor said.

Prosecutor says Morris has hatred for authority

After the murder, Morris committed more violent crimes when he tried to take a hostage, carjacked a taxi at gunpoint and robbed the taxidriver.

Morris has demonstrated a hatred for authority, Michael said.

Prosecutors did not enter into evidence information about Morris' May 2007 attempted escape from the same courtroom where he sat Thursday. Had the escape been at issue, Shabazz may have testified on his client's behalf. Complications surrounding the escape evidence made the issue "ripe for appeal," Manck has said.

"Your job isn't to decide whether someone lives or dies, it's to consider the facts," Michael told the judge. Morris determined his fate when he took Wroten's gun, shot the man in the face and escaped from the hospital, Michael said.

The judge must weigh the aggravators and mitigators and "must impose the penalty of death," Michael said.

Any other judge or jury would come to the same conclusion by following the same law, Michael said.

Prosecutors avoided emotional evidence throughout the trial, but did want Manck to read handwritten victim-impact statements from Wroten's daughters, Michael said.

Defense says case is not a simple one

The defense brought Manck its best evidence when presenting witnesses from the social sciences, psychiatry and correctional profession, Tuminelli told the judge during his closing arguments.

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