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Morris gets life without parole

'You are an evil man,' judge says

January 29, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - "You are an evil man, sir," Judge Joseph P. Manck told convicted murderer Brandon T. Morris after he announced his decision Monday to sentence Morris to life in prison without parole.

Morris faced a possible death sentence after he was convicted Jan. 18 of three counts of first-degree murder in the January 2006 shooting death of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

"You took from the Wroten family the center of their universe," Manck told Morris, who stood while the sentence was imposed.

Wroten was guarding Morris at Washington County Hospital, where the inmate had been taken with what witnesses at his trial described as a self-inflicted injury.

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The sentence ensured that Morris would die in prison, the retired Anne Arundel County judge told him.

In addition to life in prison for the first-degree, premeditated murder of Wroten, Morris was sentenced to more than 295 years in prison for other crimes he committed during his escape from the hospital and the armed carjacking of a waiting taxi driver.

The defense asked last week that Manck, not the Howard County Circuit Court jury that convicted Morris on three counts of first-degree murder, decide Morris' fate.

Under Maryland law, inmates must serve at least half of the sentence for violent crimes before they are eligible for parole. Even if Morris' life without parole sentence were to be overturned upon appeal, he would be in prison until he is 150 years old, the judge said.

Morris shook hands with one of his defense attorneys, Deputy District Public Defender Eric Reed, and spoke with attorney Harun Shabazz, also of the Office of the Public Defender, before deputies and correctional officers led him out of the courtroom.

The inmate grinned as officers wrapped him in shackles and cuffed his hands after the sentencing.

Wroten's ex-wife, Tracey Wroten, his four daughters and three of his sisters attended the sentencing.

In a statement issued Monday, Tracey Wroten and her daughters thanked the staff at Roxbury Correctional Institution and the community for the care and consideration offered them during what has been a difficult time.

"We will continue to deal with the fact their father left for work and never returned," the statement said.

At the close of the sentencing phase of his trial last week, Morris offered the family an apology. Tracey Wroten said in the statement, "I don't for one minute believe him."

"This killer had a choice to make and that choice was the cold-blooded killing of Jeff Wroten, the father of four daughters and one stepson," the statement said.

The trial was moved from Washington County to Howard County at the request of the defense, a right granted to defendants in Maryland who face a possible death penalty.

Life in prison is appropriate punishment for Morris' crimes, defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli told media gathered outside the courthouse.

"Brandon Morris did a very evil thing," said Tuminelli, who did not speak with his client after the sentencing.

Before announcing the sentence, Manck spoke at length about the aggravating factors in the case, which had to outweigh any mitigating factors in order for the judge to impose the death penalty.

The judge found as an aggravating factor that Morris was in the custody of the Division of Corrections when he attempted to escape and took Wroten's life.

Identifying mitigating factors was more difficult, Manck said.

Eight mitigating factors are defined under Maryland law, the judge said, and many of those didn't apply to Morris.

Manck did find the inmate's youthful age to be a mitigating factor. Youthful age does not only refer to a defendant's chronological age, but to emotional maturity as well, defense attorneys argued.

"He has the maturity level at best of a high school student, and at worst of a sixth-grader," Manck said.

Manck said he couldn't overlook many of the facts presented by defense witnesses during the sentencing phase.

Morris' mother was abusive to all her children, but especially to him, and his father was incarcerated in Virginia throughout Morris' childhood. Morris suffered physical abuse from his mother, her boyfriends and his stepfather, and sexual abuse from a man named Sam, the judge said, citing witness testimony.

Maryland law says the judge could consider anything else about the defendant that could represent a mitigating factor.

Defense attorneys submitted a list of 23 factors for the judge's consideration, and Manck said he accepted some of them.

The maltreatment Morris endured was "staggering," Manck said.

"It's impossible when you have a family that doesn't give a damn about you," the judge said in court.

Manck also considered closure for Wroten's survivors a mitigating factor, he said. The Maryland Court of Appeals reviews all cases in which a death sentence is imposed, and in an overwhelming number of cases, the sentence is overturned and the victims have to endure another trial, the judge said.

Manck, whose mother was murdered, sat through a similar process more than 12 years ago and "went through the nightmare" he said, addressing the Wroten family at the beginning of the proceedings.

Remembering Wroten would be easier now that they wouldn't have to listen to testimony and watch Morris walk into the courtroom every day, he said.

"I hope you find peace with all this," Manck said.

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