- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

TOWSON, Md. (AP) A federal appeals court has scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing on a motion by Baltimore County prosecutors to reinstate the death penalty against a man who had been convicted of killing an elderly Baltimore County woman.

In September, U.S. District Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz voided the murder conviction and death sentence handed down to Kevin Wiggins, citing a lack of "moral concern" on the part of those seeking the death penalty.

"Why isn't this case of moral concern to the state, or don't you care?" Judge Motz wrote in his ruling, finding there was insufficient evidence to find that Mr. Wiggins, now 40, was guilty of murder in the slaying of Florence Lacs, who was drowned in the bathtub of her Woodlawn apartment 13 years ago.

Judge Motz also faulted Mr. Wiggins' trial lawyers for not presenting evidence of his limited mental ability and childhood abuse at his sentencing.

In a filing with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Assistant Attorney General Ann N. Bosse argued that Judge Motz's "analysis runs afoul of the principles the Supreme Court has laid down for assessing claims of insufficient evidence."

In a brief filed Dec. 20, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., Mr. Wiggins' appellate attorney, contended that Judge Motz's decision was legally correct and "necessary to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice, and to vindicate the essential function of the writ of habeas corpus."

"There has been no case in the State of Maryland, indeed, to our knowledge there is no case in the country, in which a capital murder conviction has been upheld on the basis of a record so devoid of proof as the present one," Mr. Verrilli wrote.

Mr. Wiggins was found guilty by Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel in the drowning of 77-year-old Florence Lacs in her apartment, and a jury sentenced him to die. His conviction and death sentence were twice upheld by Maryland's highest court on a 5-2 vote.

In invalidating Mr. Wiggins' conviction and death sentence, Judge Motz said Judge Hinkel improperly reasoned that Mr. Wiggins was guilty of murder because he was in possession of Mrs. Lacs' stolen property. He also said Judge Hinkel ignored evidence that did not support the reasoning behind the conviction.


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