The witnesses were escorted into the viewing area shortly after 9 p.m. Monday. A hush fell as the reporters and lawyers found seats on benches bolted to three risers. They faced a window of one-way glass that, for the moment, appeared as a mirror.
The room went dark, and the reflected image vanished. A curtain drew open. There, on a gurney, lay Wesley E. Baker, motionless, his outstretched arms bound by thick leather straps. Fourteen years after he shot a woman to death in a robbery that netted $10, his execution was about to take place.
In Maryland, as in other states, reporters are permitted to witness executions along with relatives of the condemned inmate's victims. Eleven applied to witness Baker's death, and this reporter was one of five selected by random drawing.
The reporters signed an agreement Nov. 29. It described the terms: The viewing area would be warm, at 75 degrees; tape recorders and cameras would not be allowed; people with "any physical or mental condition that may be affected" by witnessing an execution were not eligible.
Baker's death warrant ordered that he be executed this week, but prison officials said they could not reveal the precise time in advance. The media witnesses were given pagers and were told to carry them at all times starting at midnight Sunday.
The pagers sounded just after 6 p.m. Monday, signaling that the execution was three hours away. As instructed, the witnesses reported to the Maryland State Police barracks in Glen Burnie. They soon left in a van accompanied by police cars, at times six or more, their lights flashing as a light snow fell.
At the prison complex in Baltimore, they were escorted through a maze of concrete walls and chain-link fences topped with razor wire. They were ushered into the old Maryland State Penitentiary, parts of which date to 1804, and into a conference room.
There, they waited with three of Baker's defense attorneys and Terrence Sheridan, the police chief of Baltimore County, where Baker shot and killed Jane Tyson in a mall parking lot in front of her two young grandchildren. A plate of cookies on the table was left untouched.
"He is not who he was on the worst day of his life," said attorney Gary Christopher, who represented Baker for many years and was with him until two hours earlier.
A short while later, the door to the conference room opened. The witnesses, including Sheridan and the three lawyers, were ushered up a stairway and into the viewing area.
Four of Tyson's relatives were watching from another viewing area, a prison spokesman said. Baker's mother, in keeping with the custom of the state, was not invited. She stood on the street outside, joined by supporters and death penalty opponents.
The curtain opened to reveal a stark room, with the padded blue gurney on which Baker lay bolted to the floor in the center. Other one-way windows were visible on two walls -- executioners behind one, Tyson's family behind the other. Beyond Baker, behind a curtain, was the state's old gas chamber, which has not been in use since 1961.
Baker, 47, was covered to his chest in a white sheet. His bare arms were visible, as was his chin. His eyes were not. The intravenous lines through which three chemicals would soon flow -- one that would cause him to lose consciousness, a second that would paralyze him and a third that would stop his heart -- were already in place.
In a corner of the small room stood Randall L. Watson, the state's execution commander; Carroll Parrish, a security chief; and a third man who served as a deputy execution commander.
A prison chaplain, the Rev. Charles Canterna, stood over Baker, speaking softly, touching his face and the fingers of his right hand, then stepped back.
Several moments later, Baker's mouth moved as he appeared to swallow or speak, though no sound was audible. Christopher and another of Baker's lawyers, Franklin W. Draper, rose from the bench in the top riser.
Baker's chest heaved for several moments, his breathing becoming audible through the glass partition before he exhaled a final time. He did not appear to move again.
The witnesses remained for several minutes, and the reporters stood. Draper and Christopher returned to their seats, and each draped an arm over the other man's shoulder.
With the curtain closed and the lights on, the witnesses filed out in silence.
Baker was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m.
He was the first death row inmate to be executed in Maryland in more than a year and the fifth since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.