For the second time in eight years, Baltimore County prosecutors are trying to convince a jury that Vernon L. "Shorty" Evans Jr. should die for the 1983 contract murders of a federal witness and a bystander at the Warren House Motor House Hotel in Pikesville.
Yesterday in Circuit Court in Towson, a jury of eight women and four men heard opening statements from a prosecutor who said that Evans, 42, deserves the death penalty, and a public defender who said that life in prison would be punishment enough.
A Worcester County judge overturned Evans' death sentence last year. The judge ruled that the sentencing form used by Evans' first jury was invalid. The decision was in line with a mid-1980s Supreme Court case but did not affect Evans' 1984 murder conviction.
John Cox, an assistant state's attorney, said yesterday that when Evans walked into the Warren House Motel's lobby on April 28, 1983, he was there to execute two federal witnesses scheduled to testify against a drug dealer named Anthony Grandison.
Evans had been promised $9,000 to do the job.
Carrying a Mac-11 machine-gun pistol with silencer, Evans fired bursts into Scott Piechowicz, the motel manager, and Mr. Piechowicz's sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy. Six bullets hit Mr. Piechowicz, four others struck Miss Kennedy, whom Evans killed by mistake. He had thought she was her sister, Cheryl Piechowicz, who was off that day, said Mr. Cox.
The prosecutor described the contract killing of a federal witness and an innocent bystander as "such an affront to the [justice] system itself that it must be addressed" by imposing the death
Sally Chester, an assistant public defender representing Evans, told the jury that, while there is no excuse for her client's act, the jury would hear of things to mitigate his crimes.
In death-penalty sentencing hearings, jurors are asked to weigh the crime's aggravating nature against evidence presented in the defendant's favor.
Mrs. Chester said her client, who has spent the last eight years in a federal prison in Illinois, has behaved himself and even acted as a calming influence on other inmates.
Once, she said, Evans was stabbed by an inmate he was teaching to read. Evans did not retaliate, thereby setting a good example for other inmates, said Mrs. Chester.
Also to his credit, Mrs. Chester said, her client blames no one but himself for committing the murders. He doesn't blame his father or mother, who raised him in a Christian household.
Drug abuse "put him in the clutches of the true monster in this case, Anthony Grandison," she said.
"When Vernon Evans got into drugs, ladies and gentleman, he didn't wade into the pool, he dove into the pool."
Mrs. Chester also said, "There is ample punishment here, ample, severe, harsh, very severe punishment available in this case." Evans could be sentenced to two life terms, if he is not given the death penalty.
"Don't let anyone coerce you or bully you to think that that is not punishment, because it is," said Mrs. Chester.
Grandison, who promised to pay Evans to eliminate the witnesses against him, was convicted of engineering the murder plot and is currently on Maryland's death row.