Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has signed a death warrant for condemned inmate Wesley E. Baker, ordering what would be the state's first execution in more than a year and the second since 1998.
Baker's sentence was stayed three years ago to give state-sponsored researchers time to complete an analysis of racial and other inequalities in the application of the state's death penalty law. Ehrlich (R) signed a warrant Thursday for his execution during the five-day period beginning Dec. 5, acting on the same day that prosecutors requested the warrant and choosing the earliest date available under the law.
"This is the shortest window we've ever had in anyone's memory," said Baker's attorney, Gary W. Christopher, who may seek to have the warrant stayed and, if that fails, the sentence commuted. "There's just an enormous amount to do in a short period of time."
Jervis Finney, Ehrlich's chief legal counsel, said the governor believes such "proceedings should take the normal course and not go on forever." Baker was sentenced to death 13 years ago for murdering Jane Tyson in a Catonsville mall parking lot.
Last month, the state's highest court denied Baker's argument that disparities documented by the researchers rendered his sentence illegal. The researchers found that prosecutors were far more likely to seek the death penalty for black suspects who, like Baker, were charged with killing white victims.
The study, commissioned in 2000 by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), fueled efforts to impose a moratorium on executions and to push anti-death penalty measures in the legislature, none of which passed.
"Maryland has not addressed what the findings of the study were," said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. "Nothing has been done by the governor, by the legislature, by the courts.''