BALTIMORE – Facing execution next week, convicted murderer Tyrone Delano Gilliam said he does not believe he pulled the trigger in the December 1988 murder of a Baltimore County hardware clerk and added he is “frustrated” with a justice system that is “inundated with evil.”
He said his punishment for his role in the murder should be “life imprisonment and an opportunity to change.”
Gilliam, 32, spoke by phone Thursday to the Associated Press from Maryland’s highest security prison in central Baltimore and on Wednesday evening by phone to a room of Johns Hopkins University students.
His last hope lies in a petition for clemency expected to be filed to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who can commute his death sentence. The governor’s spokesmen have said he will consider a petition, but has not yet received one.
Gilliam said he does not know if he pulled the trigger that killed 21-year-old Christine Doerfler because illegal drugs he used the night of her murder – PCP and cocaine – have erased his memory.
“My co-defendants are the ones who retain the memory of the night of Dec. 2,” Gilliam said in the university interview. “I didn’t know who I was or where I was when I was arrested.”
One co-defendant, Kelvin Drummond, testified at Gilliam’s trial that Gilliam was the trigger man, in a plea agreement that guaranteed Drummond a life sentence with possibility of parole. The other co-defendant, Delano Drummond, said in a 1994 sworn statement that Gilliam was not the trigger man.
Gilliam admitted to first-degree murder in two confessions, but said Wednesday he is “innocent of the death penalty.”
Maryland law allows the death sentence to be given in first- degree murder cases in which the convict pulled the trigger.
Gilliam was convicted in 1989 of murdering Doerfler in her car in Baltimore County, following a carjacking that netted $3. Doerfler had been on her way to visit her sister in northeast Baltimore when Gilliam and the Drummond brothers forced their way into her car and made her drive to a remote alley. She was found dead of a gunshot wound the next morning.
Gary Bair, chief of criminal appeals for the Maryland attorney general, said he was not swayed by Gilliam’s latest appeals. “All the information has already been reviewed by the courts, county, state and federal,” Bair said. “The courts have decided he is guilty and sentenced him to death.”
Should Gilliam be executed, it would only be the third in Maryland this decade. The last was in July 1997, when Flint Gregory Hunt was put to death for killing a Baltimore police officer.
In Thursday’s interview, Gilliam also blamed his position on death row on the judicial system, which he said discriminates against low-income blacks. Twelve of the 15 men on Maryland’s death row – including Gilliam – are black.
“If I don’t have the money to pay for the justice that this system had to offer, I get the death penalty,” Gilliam said.
He said he regrets the murder of Doerfler but said her mother sent him a letter forgiving him.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Sue Schenning said she does not know of any such letter and that the Doerfler family will not make any public statements about the case.
The governor is still waiting for an official petition of clemency to be filed by Gilliam’s attorney, Jerome H. Nickerson, said the governor’s legal counsel, Andrea Leahy-Fucheck.
Leahy-Fucheck said Nickerson gave the governor records from the case on Nov. 6.
“The governor will consider granting clemency if he receives an official petition,” Leahy-Fucheck said. The governor is in Delaware at a National Governors’ Association conference until Saturday morning.
Nickerson on Monday filed a final hearing request at the Baltimore County Circuit Court, but Judge John Grason Turnbull refused the request Thursday. Turnbull said it “is eminently clear” that Gilliam has “thoroughly exhausted all remedies available to him in the state court.”
Gilliam said he takes comfort in the teachings of Islam, to which he converted shortly after being jailed. “This body can be stopped when it’s lethally injected,” Gilliam said. “But the spirit, the energy, that moves the body, they can’t destroy that.” -30-