WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a former Navy seaman and National Security Agency cryptologist who is on death row for the 1993 murders of two women in Anne Arundel County.
The high court on Tuesday denied Darris A. Ware’s claim that the jury in his case should have been told that some of his victims’ family members opposed the death penalty. He also claimed that the less-stringent burden of proof used for sentencing in capital cases in Maryland is unconstitutional.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, attorneys in the case said the appeals process was “not even close” to being over and that it will be years – if ever – before he faces an execution.
Ware was 28 when he murdered his former fiancee, Bettina Kristi Gentry, and her friend Cynthia V. Allen, 23, on the morning of Dec. 30, 1993. Both women were shot in the head and chest and found by Gentry’s mother at her home in Severn.
Gentry was dead at the scene and Allen died later at the hospital.
The shootings followed a series of arguments between Ware, Gentry and her brother, Kevin. Ware brandished a weapon after a fight with the brother, who then tried to run down Ware with his car, according to court documents.
At trial, witnesses said Ware owned the type of gun used in the shootings and had purchased ammunition earlier in the day. A prison inmate, who testified that he was on the phone with Allen when the shooting occurred, said he heard Ware and Kristi Gentry fighting and later heard three gunshots.
Ware was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in 1995. He was convicted a second time in 1999, after the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his first conviction because prosecutors had withheld information about a witness from the jury.
In his appeal to the high court, Ware said that the victims’ families opposed the death penalty in his case, because a sentence of life in prison would mean fewer appeals, less publicity about the case and a greater sense of finality for them. Ware’s motion argued that the family’s opposition would constitute a mitigating factor in his sentencing, which could lead a jury to rule against the death penalty.
Ware also challenged the constitutionality of the state’s capital sentencing law. While a defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, Maryland imposes the much-lower standard of a simple preponderance of the evidence when weighing mitigating factors against aggravating factors for imposition of the death sentence.
Michael R. Braudes, an attorney for Ware, said the appeal will proceed to state and lower federal courts next, starting in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. A federal appeal will follow if the state appeals are unsuccessful.
Gary E. Bair, chief of the criminal appeals division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, said that it could be two to three years before Ware’s appeals are exhausted. If that happens, he said, it could take as little as five weeks from that point before Ware is executed.