Killer's sentence was no laughing matter

February 04, 2008|By TERRY HEADLEE

Judging from the reaction of some of our readers, last Monday's decision by a judge to sentence Brandon T. Morris to life without parole was not very popular.

But several readers also contacted us - angry over the use of a photo on page A1 of Tuesday's edition of The Herald-Mail showing Morris as he was being led out of the Howard County Courthouse.

The photo showed a handcuffed Morris flashing his tongue to the media after learning he would be spared the death penalty for killing correctional officer Jeffery A. Wroten.

For the record, I initially vetoed the use of the photo when it was shown to me by the front page editor that night.


I had incorrectly assumed that the photo was shot as Morris was walking into the courthouse to hear his sentence, and thought it would be interpreted as being disrespectful to the Wroten family. I also questioned the quality of the photo, which was slightly out of focus.

I then found out from the photographer that he shot the photo as a grinning Morris stuck out his tongue as he left the courthouse.

Another copy editor pointed out that our reporter covering the trial wrote that Morris was grinning in court after the judge decided the convicted killer shouldn't be executed.

At that moment, I reversed my position.

I ordered the photo to be run on the front page, above the fold.

In fact, my hope is that Judge Joseph P. Manck takes a good, hard look at that photo and realizes (though it's now too late) that he was sandbagged and snookered.

I guess it's not hard to imagine why Morris would be delighted about the sentence.

He somehow got the judge to believe that he was the victim, growing up in an abusive household.

Big deal. As some of our readers pointed out, many people have tough childhoods and abusive relationships, but that doesn't make them go out and kill in cold blood.

Manck also said he wanted to spare the Wroten family any future court hearings. It was his hope that not invoking the death penalty would provide closure more quickly, he said.

That's interesting because after the trial ended, several family members said the exact opposite - that they were disappointed that Morris didn't get the death penalty.

Some correctional officers and readers expressed concern that Morris, who has a history of escapes, would try something again.

Then, there's the cost to taxpayers.

If you're not angry by now, this will probably do it: By my math, it likely will cost taxpayers more than $2 million to keep Morris behind bars for the next 60 years.

You can figure that cost will go higher if he does something stupid again, like sticking a sewing needle into his liver.

But if Morris does escape, and then he somehow, some way, commits another atrocious crime, let's hope the next judge doesn't give this scumbag something to laugh about.

Terry Headlee is executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7594, or by e-mail at

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