- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Lawyers for a state prison inmate charged with murdering a correctional officer plan to argue at a hearing next week that prosecutors cannot legally seek the death penalty because Maryland has no approved execution instructions, a defense attorney said yesterday.

The motion challenging the state’s intent to seek the death penalty for Brandon T. Morris marks at least the second such effort by defense lawyers in capital murder cases to gain leverage from a December Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that effectively put a moratorium on executions.

The pretrial hearing is set for May 25 in Ellicott City, where the case was moved on a change of venue. Jury selection for Morris’ trial is scheduled to start May 31, with opening statements expected June 11.

Morris, 21, is charged with first-degree murder and other offenses in the slaying of Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va. Mr. Wroten, who worked at Roxbury Correctional Institution, was shot with his own gun while guarding Morris’ room at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown on Jan. 26, 2006. Morris had been admitted after having a sewing needle surgically removed from his right side.

In March 2006, Washington County prosecutors filed a notice of intent to execute Morris if he is convicted. Three months earlier, the state’s highest court had ruled that parts of the written manual for Maryland’s lethal-injection procedure hadn’t been properly adopted and couldn’t be used until the state’s protocol for the procedure is either approved by a joint legislative committee or exempted by law from such a review.

A bill that would have exempted the state from the review was voted down in a House committee this year.

Morris’ lawyers filed a motion May 2 to strike the state’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty. They claimed that the December ruling had rendered the death penalty an illegal sentence.

Washington County prosecutors countered in a filing that the Court of Appeals had invalidated only the protocols for administering a death sentence but did not strike down the death penalty.

Defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, of Baltimore, said the defense filed its motion after reading that the issue had been raised last month in the Harford County case of Kevin G. Johns, a prison inmate accused of strangling another inmate aboard a Division of Correction bus. Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt has given lawyers until July 9 to file written arguments in that case.

“No matter what, it’s going to wind up being an appellate issue in any case in which someone might get the death sentence,” Mr. Tuminelli said.

Washington County Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael said that in light of the December ruling, “a motion of this form should be expected in every capital case.”

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