- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s highest court yesterday issued a stay of the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Vernon Evans.

Evans, 57, was scheduled to be executed this week for the 1983 contract killing of Scott Piechowicz and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy.

Evans’ co-conspirator, Anthony Grandison, also is awaiting execution for the crime.

The stay was based on four issues.

Two issues relate to the effectiveness of Evans’ representation at trial, and one cites a University of Maryland study that found racial and geographic disparities in the state’s application of the death penalty. The fourth issue says the Division of Corrections didn’t follow the state’s rules when it established execution procedures.

The Maryland Court of Appeals set oral arguments in the case for May.

Evans, who had been moved to a cell closer to the state’s death chamber, was told of the court’s decision shortly before noon.

He said, “Praise God,” according to Jeffrey O’Toole, one of his attorneys.

The court’s ruling followed a series of last-minute attempts to save Evans’ life.

Last week, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, received an appeal for clemency from the two U.S. cardinals leading Maryland archdioceses and from the Vatican’s envoy to Washington.

Evans’ legal team also sent the governor a 17-minute DVD in which Evans says he is sorry for the pain of the victims’ family.

Evans’ attorneys have argued that the sentencing jury did not hear compelling evidence that Evans was not the man who pulled the trigger when the two clerks were fatally shot, although he acknowledges he carried the gun and acted as a lookout.

However, his attorneys have not said who the killer was.

They also have said that the jury did not hear that Evans experienced such severe physical and emotional abuse as a child that at age 10 he tried to take his life by swallowing a bottle of pills.

The defense also based arguments on a 2003 study by University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster that concluded that geographic and racial disparities exist in the application of the death penalty in Maryland.

Prosecutors are most likely to seek death sentences for black defendants who killed white victims, Mr. Paternoster reported.

Evans is black, and his victims were white.

The jurisdiction also mattered, the study found. The number of death sentences was the highest in Baltimore County, where prosecutors seek death in all eligible cases.

The killings in the Evans case occurred in that suburban county surrounding the city of Baltimore.

Another facet of Evans’ appeals has been his assertion that the state’s execution law was not drafted in compliance with the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.

As a result, public comment on the lethal-injection procedure, for example, was not obtained. The defense also has said that the manual the corrections division uses to conduct executions differs from the law that established the process.

An attorney for Evans, Todd Zubler, said attorneys have a March 3 deadline to submit written arguments in the appeal. Mr. Zubler said defense attorneys were “ecstatic” that the court agreed to hear more arguments.

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