ROCKVILLE – The lawyer for death row inmate Tyrone Delano Gilliam petitioned Maryland’s governor Friday to commute Gilliam’s sentence for the December 1988 murder of a female store clerk.
Gilliam is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection the week of Nov. 16.
Attorney Jerome H. Nickerson dropped the petition with more than 3,000 signatures at the governor’s Baltimore office, said Michael Stark, grassroots organizer for The Campaign to End the Death Penalty and a spokesman for Nickerson.
“We want the governor to stop this execution,” Nickerson said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has said he will consider the clemency request.
“He will review the request and decide carefully and judiciously,” said Andrea Leahy-Fucheck, Glendening’s legal counsel. “This is one of the most important decisions the governor makes.”
Glendening can refuse the request, decide to have Gilliam serve a prison term or free him.
Gilliam was convicted in October 1989 of first-degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Christine Doerfler, found slumped in her car, shot in the head, near her sister’s northeast Baltimore home.
Nickerson pushed the case to the Supreme Court, which refused the appeal without comment Oct. 5.
At a pre-hearing trial Friday morning in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Nickerson said he also would ask Maryland’s highest court to reconsider the death sentence.
In his written request for a hearing, Nickerson argues it is unproven that Gilliam fired the shot that killed Doerfler, since Gilliam was accompanied by two other men. One swore in a written statement that Gilliam did not shoot her.
Only the “trigger man” can be sentenced to death, according to Maryland law.
Both of the other men are serving life sentences.
After hearing arguments from Nickerson and Baltimore State’s Attorney Sue Schenning Friday, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr. said he would refer the case to the Baltimore County Circuit Court. He said justice would be better served by having the hearing there, because the murder occurred there and the parties involved live there.
But Nickerson said “unexplained and inexplicable things” had happened with procedure in Baltimore County. He said he will instead request a hearing before Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
Gary Bair, chief of criminal appeals for the Maryland attorney general, said he will file a response Monday.
Stark said the death penalty is unfairly meted out. Gilliam is a black convicted of killing a white, as are nine others of the 15 Maryland death row inmates. Twelve of the 15 are black.
Two task forces commissioned to study the use of the death penalty in Maryland – in 1993 and 1996 – said the over- representation of blacks on death row was a serious concern.
The 1996 study, commissioned by Glendening, recommended diversity training for justice officials.
“It is very troubling that the state would consider going forward with the death penalty when the governor’s own task force said the issue still needed more study,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dwight Sullivan.
Gilliam’s parents and brother-in-law, who were at the Montgomery County Circuit Court Friday, apologized to the Doerfler family for the murder.
Doerfler family members have not publicly said whether they favor the death penalty for Gilliam.
“They feel it is a private family matter,” Schenning said.
Should Gilliam be executed, it would be the third execution in Maryland this decade.
Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. In May 1994, the state executed its first convict in three decades: John F. Thanos, convicted of murdering three youths. In July 1997, Flint Gregory Hunt was executed for killing a Baltimore police officer. -30-