WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday let stand the conviction of Vernon Lee Evans, a Maryland man sentenced to death in the 1983 murder-for-hire slayings of two Pikesville hotel workers.
The high court refused to hear the appeal of Evans, who received two death sentences in 1984 for the machine gun shootings of Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy at the Warren House Motor Hotel.
A Worcester County Circuit Court jury found that Evans was paid $9,000 by Anthony Grandison to kill Piechowicz, 27, and his wife Cheryl, who were scheduled to testify against Grandison in a future drug trial.
But Cheryl Piechowicz’s younger sister, the 19-year-old Kennedy, worked that night instead, and became an unintended victim.
Defense attorney Gerald Fisher argued in court papers that the trial judge erred by allowing the prosecution to reject eight black potential jurors. Evans is black.
Fisher also argued that at a re-sentencing – necessary due to a law intricacy but yielded the same sentence – Evans’ defense lawyers did not call witnesses that Fisher said would have been beneficial to reducing the severity of the sentence.
Monday’s ruling pushed Evans one step closer to death by lethal injection and marks the culmination of the second of three groups of appeals available to him.
While the first two efforts came up through the state courts, the final attempt will proceed through federal courts and represents Evans’ last legal resort.
Gwynn X. Kinsey, senior counsel for capital litigation with the Maryland Attorney General’s office, said the forthcoming appeal is a way for the federal courts to check the constitutional basis of the rulings by the state courts.
“It’s sort of like the federal courts looking over the shoulder of the state courts,” Kinsey said, adding that the final process could take up to three years if it makes it all the way to the Supreme Court again.
Grandison, who is being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, known as Supermax, was sentenced to death for his role in the killings and his appeals process is going even slower than Evans’.
Grandison and Evans, who is being held at the U.S. federal penitentiary in Atlanta, are two of the 16 convicts on Maryland’s death row.
The death penalty has been sparsely used in Maryland over the last 35 years, with only two executions – in 1994 and this year – since 1961.