- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2008

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — A state prison inmate who shot a correctional officer in the head while the officer pleaded for his life was sentenced to life without parole yesterday, to the displeasure of the victim’s family and co-workers who had hoped for a death sentence.

“You are an evil man,” Judge Joseph P. Manck told defendant Brandon T. Morris, 22. But the judge said factors, including Morris’ emotional immaturity and his history of “staggering” childhood abuse, outweighed the state’s arguments for execution.

Judge Manck also sentenced Morris to 301 years to run consecutive to his life term, ensuring, the judge said, that he will die in prison.

Morris, of Baltimore, was convicted by a Howard County jury Jan. 18 of first-degree murder for killing Officer Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown.

After shooting Officer Wroten with the guard’s gun early in the morning of Jan. 26, 2006, Morris briefly took a hospital visitor hostage, carjacked a taxi and forced the cabbie at gunpoint to drive him into nearby Pennsylvania, where the car crashed. Morris fled back into Maryland, where he was captured in an industrial park.

Morris had been brought to the hospital from nearby Roxbury Correctional Institution after jabbing a sewing needle so deeply into his abdomen that it pierced his liver. Prosecutors maintained that the injury and the murder were part of a carefully planned escape.

After the sentencing, Morris flashed a derisive grin at Officer Wroten’s family as they walked out of the packed courtroom.

Judge Manck, whose mother was murdered during a 1995 home invasion, spoke directly to Officer Wroten’s family before announcing the sentence. He assured them that his “gut-wrenching” decision would free them to enjoy memories of their slain loved one without the distraction of legal proceedings.

But Officer Wroten’s ex-wife, Tracey, with whom he had four daughters, ages 7 to 13, said she was “disappointed and probably a little angry” that Judge Manck didn’t sentence Morris to death.

She said nobody should pity Morris, whose courtroom behavior included extending a middle finger toward the family whenever he held an earphone to his head during bench conferences.

“There is nothing I could say that would express the anger I have toward him,” Mrs. Wroten said. “I have no mercy for him. He didn’t show my children’s father mercy. I don’t believe he deserves mercy.”

Co-worker Capt. Mark A. Martin said Morris “presents an enormous risk” to those guarding him and an “enormous cost” to taxpayers owing to the extra security needed to transport him to hospital visits or court hearings. An attempted courtroom escape in May led to intense security for Morris during the trial, where at least a half-dozen uniformed officers were never less than a few feet from him.

Judge Manck, a retired Anne Arundel County jurist, said a defense expert witness convinced him that a threat of escape “can be minimized greatly” by the state’s Division of Correction.

Outweighing the cost of securing Morris, Judge Manck said, is the damage Morris suffered as a child at the hands of an abusive mother, stepfather and neighborhood thugs, one of whom raped him at 12 or 13, according to a social worker’s testimony.

“Growing up right on the streets of Baltimore is impossible when you have a family that doesn’t give a damn about you,” the judge said.

Defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said the sentence is appropriate. He said a death sentence would have resulted in years, if not decades, of appeal procedures that would have been hard on Officer Wroten’s family. “I think Judge Manck did those people a favor,” Mr. Tuminelli said.

Washington County State’s Attorney Charles P. Strong said a death sentence would have been appropriate. Because of Morris’ history of violence, “we feel there will be an ongoing concern about safety in prison,” Mr. Strong said.

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