Death row inmate Wesley E. Baker died by lethal injection Monday night, becoming the first black man executed in Maryland since a state-sponsored study found disparities, by race and geography, in how the death penalty law is used.
Baker, 47, was condemned to death for fatally shooting Jane Tyson, in front of her two grandchildren, in a robbery in a Catonsville mall parking lot more than a decade ago.
The execution began at 9:08 p.m. at the old Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore. The curtain behind the window into the execution chamber opened, and Baker could be seen lying on a gurney, covered to his chest with a white sheet. His outstretched arms were bound by leather straps, and intravenous lines came from a hole in the wall into both of his arms.
Prison chaplain Charles Canterna touched his face and right hand, then stepped away. About 9:10, Baker's mouth moved, as he appeared to speak or swallow. The chaplain approached him, said a few words and touched his face.
Baker took six or seven deep breaths. Each was a rasping sound audible to the witnesses, who included media representatives, three of Baker's attorneys, and Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. Four members of Tyson's family, who were not identified, watched from an area separate from the other witnesses.
The curtain into the chamber was closed at 9:16 p.m. One of seven men sentenced to die in Maryland, Baker was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m.
Baker's last meal was breaded fish, pasta with marinara sauce, green beans, an orange, bread, fruit punch and milk.
He was executed only hours after the state's highest court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case and less than an hour after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced that he would not grant clemency.
Baker was the first execution in the state since June 2004 and the fifth since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
"I'm glad it's over," Tyson's brother Martin Andree said in a phone interview Monday night from his home in Florida. "Anytime somebody's life is taken, it is a sad thing. But we have a justice system, and as long as that's the law, we need to follow through with it."
He added that the delays caused by appeals and a death penalty moratorium made it feel "like prying the scab off a wound. . . . I think that wound will heal now."
In the gentle snow outside the former penitentiary, about 50 protesters chanted and carried signs. One said: "Stop the Execution of Wesley Baker." Another: "Maryland's Death Penalty: Proven Arbitrary, Proven Racist."
At one point, inmates inside the facility started a chant of their own -- "Don't kill him! Don't kill him!" -- that was audible on the street below. The silhouettes of their fists pumping in the air could be seen through a window in the building's upper reaches.
"He was moved beyond measure by all the support you have given him over the years," Baker's lead attorney, Gary Christopher, told the assembled throng Monday night. On his last day, Baker "hoped that some good comes of this," he added. "And that is that the death penalty will wither away, and that his passing will play some role in that."
Earlier in the day, Baker met with Bonnita Spikes, a death penalty opponent who visited him regularly. "His faith is strong," said Spikes, an organizer with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. "He was calm. I think he's in a good place, actually. Mentally, he's in a good place."
Baker's mother, Delores Williams, brother, sister and friends also met with him Monday.
Baker's social worker, Marie Lori James-Monroe, was with him until 6 p.m. She said Baker spent the day "on the phone a lot with his family. There was just so much commotion today and so many visitors in and out." When she asked him about funeral arrangements, he told her he wanted "whatever would be least troublesome to his mother," she said.
Baker was convicted in 1992 of murdering Tyson in a robbery that netted about $10. Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide, was shot in the head in a parking lot less than a mile from her home in Baltimore County.
Baker's case has intensified debate about the state's use of the death penalty, in part because he is precisely the person that the state-sponsored study found is most likely to be condemned to die: a black man who kills a white person in Baltimore County.
Five of the remaining six men on Maryland's death row are black, and the victims of all but one were white. Two of the condemned were convicted for killings in Baltimore County.
Since Ehrlich signed Baker's death warrant last month, Baker's attorneys had filed a barrage of petitions and appeals. They had 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.
Born of rape to a woman not yet 14 years old, he was "unwanted and resented by his mother, who beat him with electric cords and belts," the petition states. Baker was sexually abused by age 5, "left to fend for himself in the streets from age eight; sleeping in abandoned cars and hotel bathrooms," it says.
Debate over the death penalty has risen across the country. Last week, Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th person executed since the death penalty was reinstated.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) commuted the death sentence of Robin M. Lovitt last week because the state had thrown out evidence. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has said he is considering whether to commute the death sentence of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a co-founder of the Crips, the Los Angeles street gang, scheduled to be executed Dec. 13.
Staff writer Christian Davenport in Washington contributed to this report.