ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals Wednesday overturned the death sentence of a man convicted of killing a Maryland state trooper because of procedural errors made by the Talbot County Circuit Court during sentencing.
Ivan Fitzherbert Lovell, who in May 1996 pleaded guilty to first degree murder in Talbot County Circuit Court, shot and killed Trooper First Class Edward A. Plank after the officer stopped him for speeding early in the morning of Oct. 17, 1995.
Lovell, who has been incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, a super-maximum security prison in Baltimore, will be returned to Talbot County for a new sentencing hearing.
The appeals court agreed with Lovell that he was placed in wrist and ankle restraints without reason and against his consent during his trial. Lovell argued that a jury, seeing the defendant shackled in the courtroom, would be biased against him.
The court also affirmed Lovell’s assertion that the jury was not given proper clarification of a “youthful age” sentencing rule. The rule requires juries to consider the defendant’s maturity, as well as his chronological age, in deciding whether to apply the death penalty.
“If only one juror was not persuaded that youthful age…[was] outweighed by the aggravating circumstances, the jury could not impose a death sentence,” the court said.
Lovell, who was 24 at the time of the murder, had spent most of his adult life in prison, had only a 10th grade education and had no work history, according to the appeals court opinion.
But the court rejected Lovell’s assertion that the circuit court did not properly explain the murder charge to which he had pled guilty. The appeals court noted that Lovell on several occasions signed documents indicating that he understood the charge and the potential consequences of his confession. Lovell also acknowledged that he understood the sentence during numerous meetings with his defense attorney, the court added.
In a concurring opinion, Judges Alan M. Wilner and Howard S. Chasnow agreed with the majority that the sentence should be overturned because the jury was not properly instructed about the concept of youthful age. They sided with the circuit court, however, on the issue of shackling Lovell during his sentencing.
Wilner wrote that the majority’s opinion “is unnecessary and defies common sense in the context of a capital sentencing hearing.” Wilner added that the Talbot County Judge William S. Horne ordered that Lovell be restrained on recommendation of the sheriff’s office, action the circuit court found neither “unreasonable [n]or arbitrary.”
“Ivan Fitzherbert Lovell, even if only 130 pounds, was then and there a very dangerous man, one not a bit averse to killing other human beings and then fleeing,” he argued.
Wilner added that, when questioned, only one juror said the appearance of the defendant in leg shackles would influence the juror’s decision, and that juror was excused.
Assistant Public Defender Melissa M. Moore, who argued the appeal for Lovell, said the appeals court’s ruling on youthful age may add to a jury’s reluctance to impose the death penalty in a future sentencing hearing.
“This guy got very frightened and trigger happy,” she said. A new jury “might find that maturity was a mitigating factor with this.”
The jury may be swayed further still toward a non-capital sentence, she said, if Lovell appears before them without arm and leg shackles, which she called “a very visible sign” of a violent nature. Gary E. Bair, chief of the criminal appeals division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, said the rulings would help to clarify judges’ rights in restraining defendants in the court and explaining youthful age issues to the jury in future cases. -30-