ANNAPOLIS-Lawyers for condemned killer Vernon Evans asked the Maryland Court of Appeals Friday to throw out his death sentence because, they said, the administration of capital punishment is racially biased.
But lawyers for the state argued that the “horrendous nature of EvansÕs crime” coupled with overwhelming evidence against him were the only reasons he was sentenced to death.
Evans was convicted of the 1983 murders of Susan Kennedy and David Scott Piechowicz in the lobby of a Pikesville motel. Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, were witnesses in a federal narcotics case against Anthony Grandison. Grandison paid Evans $9,000 to kill the Piechowiczes in the lobby of the motel, where they both worked. Evans mistakenly killed Kennedy, CherylÕs sister, instead.
Grandison was also convicted of murder in the case and is also on death row.
“It ranks as one of the worst crimes in the state of Maryland,” Assistant Attorney General Annabelle Lisic told the court. “It would have been prosecuted as capital if he [Evans] was black, white, pink or purple.”
Evans’ lawyers are basing their case primarily on a study by a Univeristy of Maryland criminology professor, Raymond Paternoster, who found that the application of the death penalty is racially biased because prosecutors most often seek it when the victims are white and the suspects are black.
A. Stephen Hut, Jr., one of EvansÕs attorneys, said that of the seven death row inmates that are black, six are convicted of killing whites. Three inmates have been granted hearings based on the Paternoster study.
“Ultimately, we want the death sentence overturned,” Hut said in an interview after the hearing.
Lisic told the court that the suggestion that race entered into the decision to seek the death penalty “ludicrous.”
In an interview after the court hearing, John Cox, one of the Baltimore County state’s attorneys who prosecuted Evans, called the case “another effort to delay justice. I know the weight given to evidence. IÕve been in the office for almost 20 years. Race has never played a factor in the decision to prosecute.”
As lawyers argued before the seven-member court, a small group of protesters carried signs outside.
“There are different moral arguments against the death penalty but when you see itÕs applied in a disparate way, it causes you to think twice whether itÕs the right thing to do,” said Jayson Bozek, a financial analyst from Ellicott City and member of the Committee to Save Vernon Evans.
Hut asked the court to order hearings to determine why the death penalty was pursued in some cases in Baltimore County but not in others. Lisic and a few of the judges were clearly concerned about how such a hearing could take place. Lisic called it an “absolute nightmare” if the stateÕs attorneys had to explain why they pursued the death penalty in each case.