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 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's being a law-enforcement officer or the defendant's having 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," said Ms. McLendon.
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 for the Dec. 26 incident.
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 of the slaying.
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.
The policy requires prosecutors to review police reports, interview the detectives who handled the case as well as seek input from defense attorneys on why the death penalty should not be sought.
In addition to first-degree murder, Mr. Harney is charged witattempting to kill William Helmbold, a 45-year-old Woodlawn man who was shot in his right arm during the incident.
A police report filed in Circuit Court says that Mr. Harney, a financial administrator at Westinghouse Corp., had picked up his sons -- 8-year-old Ryan and 10-year-old Paul -- at his estranged wife's home Dec. 26 for a prearranged holiday visit.
While the boys slept at his Owings Mills home, police said, Mr. Harney went back to Mrs. Harney's house in the 5000 block of Brampton Parkway and broke into it through a basement window shortly before 9:30 p.m.
The police report says that Mr. Harney confronted Mrs. Harney and Mr. Helmbold in a bedroom, striking and shooting them. Mr. Harney went to the living room, with Mrs. Harney and Mr. Helmbold following him.
Mr. Harney grabbed Mrs. Harney and forced her to go outside, the documents say. He is charged with shooting her and then running over her as he fled in his car. Her body was dragged to the end of her driveway.
For 12 days after the shooting, authorities were able to trace part of the path Mr. Harney took his sons by monitoring the use of his credit cards and withdrawals he made from bank machines.
Police learned Mr. Harney had taken the boys to Walt Disney World in Florida, but later lost track of the three of them.
Mr. Harney was arrested Jan. 7 in Charlotte, N.C., when a woman at an employment agency where he had asked about a job called police after seeing his picture in a commercial for "America's Most Wanted," a crime show that featured his case.
He is being held at the Howard County Detention Center without bond.
The Harneys, who moved to Howard in 1985, separated in July. Their sons are now living with Mr. Harney's parents in McLean, Va.
In a phone interview yesterday, Mr. Harney's father, Jack Harney, said the boys are doing well, regularly visiting their father in jail, attending school and playing with their cousins.
"They have someone to play with and go to school with," Jack Harney said. "They don't feel isolated."