Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur Marshall said yesterday he will move a death penalty case out of the county because the presiding judge refused to impose the death penalty in a separate capital punishment case earlier this week.
Marshall has moved several capital cases from Prince George's in the past, saying the state could not get a fair trial from county jurors or from the presiding judge.
Marshall yesterday cited the earlier decision by Circuit Court Judge James M. Rea, who said that "a single death by a single defendant does not meet the community standard" for imposing the death penalty in the county.
Marshall, who had called Rea's remarks "ridiculous," made a rare courtroom appearance yesterday to file the change-of-venue notice, which needs no judicial approval. After reading aloud Rea's statement, Marshall said, "It seems to be saying that, at least in Prince George's County, if the state comes forward seeking the death penalty in a case involving one defendant and one victim, the court has in fact prejudged the case."
Rea answered that his decision was "not that simplistic." If the president or governor were killed in Prince George's by a single person, he said, the suspect would likely be sentenced to death upon conviction.
"I'm telling you that I'm going to use my common sense and everyday experience" when imposing sentences, Rea said. "I am not announcing that I am against the death penalty. I've grown up in this community, and I am as aware of what's going on in this community as any one of the 500,000-something residents."
Marshall, who has frequently sought the death penalty, and Rea agreed that the likelihood of obtaining a death sentence is higher in counties other than in Prince George's.
Only one Prince George's jury has imposed a death sentence since capital punishment was reinstated in Maryland in 1978. That sentence was set aside after an agreement between the defendant's attorneys and the state.
Judge Rea has been the only judge to impose a death sentence in Prince George's County since 1978. That sentence was set aside on appeal.
In the earlier case, Rea sentenced Kenneth Guinyard of Northeast Washington to life plus 20 years in prison for fatally shooting an Oxon Hill man during a thwarted robbery and kidnaping. Guinyard, 24, will be eligible for parole in 25 years.
Marshall's notice was filed in the case of Michael Anthony White, who is charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the death last August of James Edward Stephens, 19, of Greenbelt.