A Maryland man whose death sentence was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court must decide within a week whether to accept a prosecution offer that would immediately make him eligible for parole, one of his attorneys said yesterday.
Kevin Wiggins, 43, has served 16 years in prison for the 1988 drowning of Florence Lacs, a 77-year-old widow, in a bathtub at her apartment west of Baltimore. The Supreme Court overturned his death sentence last year, saying his public defenders had failed him, but the court allowed his conviction to stand.
A new sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin Oct. 18, with possible outcomes ranging from a death sentence to a life sentence suspended after a certain number of years to be determined by a judge.
Wiggins's attorney, F. Spencer Gordon, said yesterday that Baltimore County prosecutors have offered a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. In Maryland, such inmates are eligible for parole after 15 years, although it must be recommended by the parole board and approved by the governor.
Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst declined to comment on the offer. Another prosecutor on the case, Robin Coffin, was quoted in the Baltimore Sun yesterday as confirming that the offer had been made. Coffin did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.
Gordon said that the prosecutors offered the deal before he began representing Wiggins a little less than a year ago but that, until Monday, "there just had never been detailed discussions" of a resolution involving both sides and the judge, Thomas J. Bollinger.
Gordon said Wiggins is "considering it, and he's being advised by those he trusts the most."
An agreement would bring an end to a case that has carved a path through state and federal courts for more than 15 years.
Lacs was found drowned in the bathtub of her ransacked Woodlawn apartment in September 1988. When police arrested Wiggins, then 27, he and his girlfriend had Lacs's car and credit card and had pawned a ring belonging to her.
Wiggins followed the advice of his court-appointed lawyers -- neither of whom had tried a capital case -- and waived his right to a jury trial. A judge then convicted him, and a jury sentenced him to death after hearing his attorneys suggest that someone else might be the killer. But it did not hear evidence that he had an IQ of 79 and had been sexually abused and beaten frequently throughout his boyhood.
The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and sentence, but U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz issued an opinion in 2001 suggesting that the trial judge had ignored exculpatory logic and evidence. He also found that Wiggins's attorneys had failed to competently research his past and present it to the jury.