- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Prosecutors have offered a former death row inmate whose sentence was overturned last year by the U.S. Supreme Court a deal that would make him eligible for an immediate parole hearing, according to his attorney.

Last year, the Supreme Court said two inexperienced Baltimore County public defenders failed Kevin Wiggins, 43, a borderline retarded man, because they didn’t tell jurors that he was severely sexually abused as a child.

The high court let stand Wiggins’ conviction for the 1989 drowning of a Woodlawn, Md., woman who had hired him as a handyman. But it ordered a new sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors have offered a life sentence that, if agreed upon, would make Wiggins — who has been in prison 16 years — eligible for a parole hearing, said Spencer Gordon, an assistant public defender in Baltimore County’s felony trial division.

Inmates sentenced to life in prison become eligible for parole after 15 years, minus any credit for good behavior or work service. The governor must approve the parole.

Robin Coffin, an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore County, confirmed that prosecutors offered Wiggins the life sentence but would say little else about it.

“We made this offer a long time ago. Months ago,” she said. On Monday, “they came to court and there was discussion about the offer.”

Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to return to court Oct. 7 for a motions hearing. Although Miss Coffin said there was no deadline attached to the offer, she said she hopes that Wiggins and his attorneys will have made a decision by then.

Wiggins has maintained his innocence in the September 1988 drowning death of Florence Lacs, 77, who was found dead in the bathtub of her Woodlawn apartment complex.

After Wiggins’ conviction, the public defenders representing him opted to have him sentenced by a Baltimore County jury. Rather than argue for leniency by presenting evidence of abuse Wiggins suffered in his childhood, the defense attorneys tried to convince the jury of his innocence. Jurors deliberated for a little more than six hours before sentencing him to die.

Twice, Maryland’s highest court upheld Wiggins’ conviction and sentence. But in September 2001, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz voided Wiggins’ conviction and sentence, ruling that there was not enough evidence to convict him and that his attorneys did not adequately represent him.

Those decisions were reversed in May 2002 by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court, while letting Wiggins’ conviction stand, threw out the death sentence.

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