- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — A man on trial on charges of killing a correctional officer while trying to escape a hospital tried to run out of a Howard County courtroom yesterday during jury selection for his trial, causing a scare as deputies wrestled him to the ground.

Brandon Morris, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking and other offenses stemming from the shooting of Officer Jeffrey Wroten at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown while guarding Morris’ room last year.

Morris, who was not in shackles or handcuffs yesterday, made a lunge toward the door of the courtroom, Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald said. He was tackled by sheriff’s deputies.

Sheriff Fitzgerald said a security plan had been set up several weeks ago to handle the case, which is being tried in Ellicott City.

Because of case law set by the Maryland Court of Appeals that says a defendant must appear as unrestrained as possible in front of a jury or potential jurors, “a decision was made not to have Mr. Morris in shackles or handcuffs at these court proceedings,” Sheriff Fitzgerald said.

“However, three deputies were seated close to the defendant today with additional deputies throughout the courtroom,” he said.

Washington County Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph S. Michael, who was in the courtroom, said Morris rose from his seat at the defense table about 3 p.m. and tried to run from the room.

“He got up from the seat and tried to run out and was tackled by Howard County sheriff’s deputies,” Mr. Michael said. “Then they dragged him out of the courtroom.”

He said at least five or six deputies were involved in the scuffle.

Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney then excused the 96 prospective jurors present from service and ended the proceedings for the day, Mr. Michael said.

Mr. Michael said the escape attempt came as roll was being called for the day’s third group of jurors.

“As one would imagine, some of them were quite frightened, but Judge Sweeney and the sheriff’s deputies kept everyone calm,” Mr. Michael said.

He said the sheriff’s deputies “did an excellent job.”

Sheriff Fitzgerald said a hearing has been scheduled for today, when Judge Sweeney will consider the next steps in the case. Sheriff Fitzgerald said that because the incident, security measures and restraints on Morris will be enhanced.

Officer Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was guarding Morris’ hospital room when he was shot in the head with his own gun early Jan. 26, 2006.

Authorities said Morris took a hospital visitor hostage briefly during his escape from the building, and forced cabbie Frank Fultz to drive him at gunpoint on a police chase that ended when the cab crashed into a concrete barrier.

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