A federal jury began deliberations yesterday afternoon over whether to impose the death penalty on Willis Mark Haynes for the murder of three young women on a desolate highway in Beltsville more than four years ago.
Before retiring to the jury room, the panel of seven men and five women were given a powerful last image of a crime that unnerved the Washington area in January 1996: a giant photograph of the three women's bodies strewed like debris along a rain-slick patch of U.S. Route 197.
Prosecutors also propped up huge smile-filled portraits of Tamika Denise Black, 19, Mishann Dania Chinn, 23, and Tanji Yvonne Jackson, 21, in a finale that moved several of the victims' relatives to tears.
U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte dismissed the jurors after about 2 3/4 hours. By law, the death penalty can be imposed only by their unanimous decision. The crime is being tried in federal court in Greenbelt because the murders occurred on federal property.
Haynes, 22, was found guilty May 19 of kidnapping the three women and shooting them to death.
The three women had joined Haynes and two of his friends--Dustin John Higgs and Victor Gloria--at Higgs's Laurel apartment, according to testimony. But the women left in anger because Higgs made a pass at Jackson. Haynes and the others tracked them down and lured them into a van with the offer of a ride home.
In his police confession, Haynes said Higgs handed him a .38-caliber handgun, saying, 'You better make sure they're dead.' "
During the penalty phase, psychologists called by the prosecution and the defense picked over the same bleak details of Haynes's life, though with contrary aims.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Deborah A. Johnston and Sandra Wilkinson tried to show how educators, counselors and foster parents had tried to help Haynes, only to be rebuffed by a young man who styled himself a street-savvy drug dealer.
But the defense, led by attorneys Barry Boss and Joshua R. Treem, drew a portrait of a childhood troubled from the moment of birth, when the umbilical cord became tangled around Haynes's neck.
At 7, Haynes had his first drink. At 11, he attempted suicide with pills. By the time he was a teenager, he was smoking marijuana daily. His teenage years became a blur of fights, school expulsions, foster care and run-ins with police.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, his mother, Roberta Haynes, spent years in therapy. Haynes's father, Willie Mark Woods, ran up 57 arrests before Haynes became a teenager.
Yesterday, Treem pleaded with the jury to spare Haynes, saying that his client's horrific childhood had put him on an almost inevitable path toward violent crime.
"We've all lived with internal demons, as Ms. Wilkinson said. But we don't live with Willis Haynes' demons," Treem said.