The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday upheld for the second time the death penalty for James Arthur Calhoun in the 1981 slaying of a Montgomery County police officer during an armed robbery at a store in White Oak.
Calhoun, 33, of Washington has exhausted his appeals at the state level, and any further appeals must be filed in federal court, "where the prospects are not good for his success," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner.
Defense attorney Joseph Suntum said yesterday he had not yet read the decision and could not comment on possible appeals.
The decision by the state's highest court was unanimous, and it was the second time in slightly more than a month that the court has upheld the death penalty in a murder case. On June 9, it affirmed -- also for the second time -- the death sentence of Richard Danny Tichnell, 38, who killed a sheriff's deputy in 1979 near Oakland in western Maryland.
The latest death penalty rulings were hailed by Richard Rosenblatt, the assistant attorney general who argued Calhoun's and Tichnell's cases before the Court of Appeals, as signaling a shift on the court since a period between 1978 and 1983 when it reversed nine death sentences. "This is a court that reversed the first nine death sentences that came before it," he said. "These two cases demonstrate that that attitude doesn't exist on the court any longer.
"Maybe the billboards in Baltimore City lambasting those nine decisions got to them. Maybe the court of appeals isn't as sheltered from politics as it ought to be," Suntum said.
Calhoun was convicted of killing officer Philip C. Metz and security guard David W. Myers during a break-in at a W. Bell discount store on New Hampshire Avenue. A Montgomery County jury sentenced him to death for killing Metz and to life imprisonment in the slaying of Myers. Calhoun is imprisoned in the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.
In yesterday's 67-page opinion, the appeals court reversed Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James S. McAuliffe's order last August that Calhoun be granted a new sentencing because he was not afforded "his fundamental right" to address the jury that sentenced him to death on Nov. 10, 1981.
"What the court said . . . was you have a right to stand up and address a jury, but if you don't stand up and demand that right, or if you don't object to being precluded from exercising that right, then you can't prevail on appeal by saying that you should have had that right," Rosenblatt said yesterday.
The appeals court had upheld Calhoun's death sentence in 1983, reaffirming the state's death penalty statute, adopted in 1978. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to hear Calhoun's appeal in May 1984.
In addition to Tichnell and Calhoun, 16 men and one woman are awaiting execution in Maryland's gas chamber. No one has been executed in Maryland since 1961, when Nathaniel Lipscomb was executed for the rape and stangulation of three women in the 1950s.