Execution Still On Despite Racial Analysis

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Wesley E. Baker was born of rape and convicted of murder. If the state of Maryland has its way, he will die this week by lethal injection.

Absent intervention by the courts or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Baker will be executed for the murder of Jane Tyson, who in 1991 was robbed in the parking lot of a Catonsville mall and then shot to death in front of her two grandchildren.

A poison drip will end an astonishing run of violence and tragedy that began even before Baker's birth 47 years ago, when his mother was attacked in an alley when she was not yet 14. "The product of serious trouble," Baker once said to a psychologist, recalling his view of himself as far back as elementary school.

"I knew I would end up dead, in prison for the rest of my life, on death row," his clemency petition says he told the psychologist. "If it could be worse, I knew I would be a part of it."

Although a death warrant signed by Ehrlich orders that Baker be executed this week, prison officials are prevented by law from disclosing the exact date and time in advance. His would be the first execution in Maryland since June of last year, when Steven Oken was put to death, and the fifth since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Baker would also be the first black man to be executed in Maryland since researchers documented sharp disparities -- racially and by jurisdiction -- in how the state's capital punishment statute is used. Death penalty opponents and the study's author say neither the legislature nor the courts have responded adequately to the findings, announced nearly three years ago.

The study, commissioned by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 2000, found that prosecutors were far more likely to seek the death penalty for black suspects charged with killing white victims, as Baker was. It also found that slayings in Baltimore County were far more likely to result in death sentences than were slayings in other jurisdictions.

Six of the seven men on Maryland's death row are black, and all but one of their victims were white. Three of the condemned men were convicted for killings in Baltimore County.

In recent days, Baker's attorneys have filed a barrage of petitions and appeals, none successful. They have challenged the method of execution, contending that the trio of drugs used by the state has the potential to feel like a "fire traveling through the vein to the heart" and could cause Baker to be "tortured to death."

They have also asked Ehrlich to commute Baker's sentence to life without the possibility of parole, detailing circumstances of Baker's childhood that they say mitigate his crime. Ehrlich was considering the request this weekend, a spokesman said.

In his first 20 years, Baker was exposed to a catalogue of horrors, according to the accounts of his attorneys and psychologists in court documents and the clemency petition. Born unwanted to a teenage mother, he was sexually abused by age 5 and was using heroin regularly by age 10, his attorneys wrote in the petition to the governor. By 14, Baker was living with a prostitute twice his age, trading sex for drugs. He became a father the next year.

"In the garden of life, this is the formula for rearing antisocials," Circuit Court Judge Cypert O. Whitfill said during a 1993 hearing to review the death sentence he had given Baker the previous year.

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