A former Maryland death row inmate whose sentence had been overturned was resentenced yesterday to life without the possibility of parole by a judge who called his crimes savage and horrific.
Darris A. Ware, 33, has been behind bars since 1993 on charges he murdered two women in Anne Arundel County. Circuit Court Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. threw out Ware's death sentence in 2002, saying his attorneys had failed him, but allowed his convictions to stand.
Prosecutors say Ware shot and killed his girlfriend, 18-year-old Betina "Kristi" Gentry, in a rage at her home in Severn after their relationship soured. They say he then hunted down another woman who happened to be at the home, 22-year-old Cynthia Allen, prying open the door to a bathroom where she had hidden, and shot her.
Allen had been on the telephone when the shooting began, and prosecutors believe Ware was concerned about the witness on the other end of the line. Ware suspected she had been talking to her husband and went to their house. Despite his having just committed two murders, prosecutors say, there was "nothing unusual" in Ware's demeanor when he knocked on the door.
"That is incredibly scary, your honor," Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen E. Rogers said in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. "That is what a coldblooded killer is."
In a packed courtroom, Edward Gentry said the pain of losing his daughter remains so sharp that "to this day it's just like it was yesterday." Ramon Vega said he learned that his daughter, Allen, a mother of two, had been murdered just five days after the death of his father.
State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said in August that, in accordance with the wishes of the victims' families, he would not seek the death penalty when Ware returned for sentencing. The judge's options were life without the possibility of parole, life with the possibility of parole and a life term that would be suspended after some years.
Judge Joseph P. Manck told the victims' families that he appreciated the "courageous stand you took in asking Mr. Weathersbee not to go forward with the death penalty in the hope of resolving this matter once and for all."
"I think what Mr. Ware did was savage," Manck said. "I think what Mr. Ware did was horrific."
Ware had already addressed the court. He offered his "most sincere apologies" to the families of the victims and said, "I am truly, truly sorry, your honor, for this incident."
The hurried words were in contrast to comments Ware made after he was sentenced to death in 1999, when he seemed to taunt Gentry's brother Kevin with the prospect of an appeal. Then, according to a victim's advocate who testified yesterday, Ware looked at Kevin Gentry and, with a smirk on his face, said, "See you in three years."
One of Ware's attorneys, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, asked Manck to recommend Ware for a program at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, where he might receive psychological treatment for depression and other conditions. Tuminelli cautioned the judge against defining Ware by the events of Dec. 30, 1993, saying Ware was honorably discharged from the Navy shortly before the murders and has been a model inmate since.
Tuminelli described his client as "an ordinary man who committed some very evil acts . . . but he is not an evil man."
In the 11 years since his arrest, Ware has been tried twice -- convicted both times, in 1995 and 1999 -- and his case has been the subject of numerous appeals. In 2002, Judge Heller overturned his death sentence, saying his attorneys in 1999 were not adequately prepared for sentencing before a jury.
Tuminelli said outside of court yesterday that he was certain Ware would appeal again.