Daniel Scott Harney, accused of killing his estranged wife and fleeing Maryland with their two young sons the day after Christmas, will not face the death penalty, Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon announced yesterday.
Ms. McLendon said the prosecution does not meet the state's legal requirements to seek the death penalty for Mr. Harney, accused of killing 40-year-old Shirley Scott Harney Dec. 26 at her Ellicott City home.
In first-degree murder cases, the law requires prosecutors to find at least one of 10 "aggravating circumstances." These factors must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt -- regardless of how brutal a crime is -- before the death penalty can be sought.
The aggravating factors include such circumstances as the victim was a law-enforcement officer or the defendant committed a murder while trying to escape from police custody.
"The evidence [in the Harney case] doesn't support any aggravating factors that are required to seek the death penalty," Ms. McLendon said.
Clarke Ahlers, a Columbia attorney for Mr. Harney, said Ms. McLendon's decision reflects common sense.
"It is the position of the defense team that the state's attorney has made the only correct decision," Mr. Ahlers said.
Terry Farrell, president of the board of directors for the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, said he accepts Ms. McLendon's decision.
"For us, it's not an issue of the death penalty," Mr. Farrell said. "It's an issue of bringing [Mr. Harney] to trial and punishing him if in fact he did kill his wife." Mr. Harney, 41, is to stand trial in Howard Circuit Court July 31 on first-degree-murder and six other charges.
Prosecutors now have until 30 days before the trial to notify defense attorneys whether they will seek a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for Mr. Harney. Otherwise, Mr. Harney could be sentenced to life in jail -- becoming eligible for parole after serving at least 15 years of his term -- if he is convicted.
Ms. McLendon said the decision against the death penalty came after a lengthy review of Mr. Harney's case, as required by a new policy that she established last month for first-degree murder cases.
Mr. Harney is also charged with the attempted murder of William Helmbold, a 45-year-old Woodlawn man who was shot in his right arm during the incident.