Shrieks and sobs from victims' relatives and friends nearly drowned out a Howard County jury's announcement yesterday that Darris Ware was guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of his fiancee and her friend.
Ware, 24, returns to the Ellicott City courtroom Monday, when the jury will hear testimony to decide whether he should be executed for the Dec. 30, 1993, slayings of his girlfriend, Betina Kristi Gentry, 18, and Cynthia Allen, 22.
The shackled defendant did not react as the verdicts were read: guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and four handgun charges.
"Yes!" cried relatives and more than two dozen friends of the victims.
"I'm relieved, very much so," said Jeffery Allen, Mrs. Allen's husband, his cheeks wet with tears. "This is it, it's been almost two years. I'm just happy it's over."
Mr. Allen said he didn't know how he would tell his daughter, Alexis, about the verdict.
"What can you tell a 4-year-old?" he asked.
Although the child and her 7-year-old sister, Courtney, accompany him on visits to their mother's grave in Odenton, the children do not fully understand the circumstances of her death, Mr. Allen said.
Other relatives and friends of the dead women said they would not comment on the case until after sentencing. Eleven jurors and three al ternates will hear from about 10 defense witnesses and an undetermined number of prosecution witnesses. Victim impact statements also will be entered as evidence.
Janie Knight, Ware's mother, cried softly, saying nothing. Before she left the courtroom, Nina Gentry, the mother of one of the victims, hugged Ms. Knight.
Earlier in the day, as she waited for the jury of eight women and four men to reach a verdict, Ms. Knight said, "Whatever the outcome, I want him to know I'm still his mom and he's still my child. It's just sad for both sides."
Ware, a former Navy seaman, and Betina Kristi Gentry had what both sides said was an uneven relationship. Mr. Allen testified that Ms. Gentry came to his house the morning of the slayings complaining about a fight that day in which Ware had punched her in the eye.
Assistant public defender Mark Blumberg said he was disappointed in the verdict and would seek a new trial. He said police focused on Ware immediately, even though there was no substantial evidence placing him at the house Ms. Gentry shared with her mother in the 1900 block of Bastille Court in Severn.
Ms. Gentry and Mrs. Allen were found shot in the chest and temple about 1 p.m. on Dec. 30, 1993. Edward Love Anderson, 24, testified last week that he telephoned the victims about noon, learned that the defendant was at the house and heard screams and gunshots before he was disconnected at 12:31 p.m.
Anderson, who is serving a life sentence for a 1989 murder conviction, said he called Ms. Gentry's home collect from the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup. The defense attacked his credibility, noting that he is a murderer. The defense said Ware was at home or in his car on the way to the Gentry home at the time of the killings.
Ware did not take the stand. At his request, the trial was moved to Howard County.