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Death-penalty fight links local victims' families

February 07, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A fight to preserve Maryland's death penalty is uniting relatives of two people killed on the same day in Washington County last year.

Worried about a death-penalty repeal movement, Kimmy Armstrong - the aunt of slain Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Shane Nicholson - already has lobbied in Annapolis in favor of capital punishment.

Now, Tori D. Landers, whose sister, Alison Munson, was killed shortly before Nicholson, has joined Armstrong in a letter-writing campaign.

Douglas Wayne Pryor of Smithsburg is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Nicholson and second-degree murder in the death of Munson, who was Pryor's ex-girlfriend. Both homicides occurred Dec. 19.

Armstrong and Pryor soon might have another ally - Tracey Wroten, whose ex-husband, Jeffery A. Wroten, a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer, was killed in 2006.

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While Wroten was guarding inmate Brandon T. Morris at Washington County Hospital, Morris grabbed Wroten's gun and shot him.

A judge sentenced Morris last month to life in prison, sparing him the death penalty.

Tracey Wroten, of Inwood, W.Va., who was upset Morris wasn't sentenced to death, has been in touch with some of Nicholson's relatives by e-mail.

She said she will help Armstrong and Landers however she can.

"That's an effort well worth taking on," she said.

Last year, Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore City, sponsored a death-penalty repeal bill that narrowly failed in her Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Gladden, a public defender, said Wednesday that she wasn't planning to push for a repeal again since the opposing legislators haven't changed. However, backers convinced her to at least file it this year, which she did. She's not sure it even will come up for a vote.

"It's more than just a bill," she said. "It's a statement about who we are as a community."

She said she doesn't want to minimize the pain of victims' families, but execution isn't an "appropriate response" to murder.

All three women whose relatives were slain say the right to execute killers in Maryland should be preserved.

"My children's father was cold-bloodedly murdered ..." Tracey Wroten said. "That is the type of person we don't need in society."

Armstrong, who lives north of Hagerstown, and her aunt lobbied delegates and senators in Annapolis on Jan. 23. Gov. Martin O'Malley mentioned them in his State of the State address after they met him during a chance encounter.

On Tuesday, Armstrong mailed letters with her nephew's picture to every Maryland state delegate and senator, plus the governor and lieutenant governor.

"Is life in prison a more severe punishment than the death penalty? Not even close!" the letter says. "A person sentenced to life in prison has a life. Has access to medical care, dental care, education, food, and shelter."

"Keep the death penalty as an available option for the criminal justice system," the letter concludes. "Not for revenge, but for justice. Please do not further victimize those whose lives have been taken, or their families and friends."

Landers' letter to elected officials includes pictures of her sister.

"I cannot even begin to express the deep grief that my family is now and will forever be enduring ..." it says. "Alison leaves behind two small children who will forever be without their mother."

"Send a message to these murderous perpetrators that there is an ultimate consequence for their selfish actions," Landers, of Great Cacapon, W.Va., wrote.

Armstrong mailed part of Landers' batch on Wednesday and planned to mail the rest today.

Armstrong, Landers and Tracey Wroten all said they would like to testify against Gladden's bill when a hearing is held.

"I really feel that my sister's murder has lost its voice," Landers said. "There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of justice for the victims."

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