Darris Ware was sentenced to death yesterday by a Howard County jury for killing two women in a Severn house in December 1993.
It was the first death sentence ordered in Howard in at least 25 years, said Richard Kinlein, a former Howard County state's attorney. It also was the first in Maryland since March when Scotland E. Williams was sentenced to death for killing two Washington lawyers in their waterfront vacation home near Annapolis.
Ware, 24, joins 11 other defendants on Maryland's death row.
The native of Fort Pierce, Fla., was convicted last week of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Betina Kristi Gentry, 18, his former fiancee, and Cynthia Vega Allen, 22, in the home Ms. Gentry shared with her mother in the 1900 block of Bastille Court. Testimony at the trial indicated that Ware had struck Ms. Gentry earlier in the day.
The bodies of the two women were found in the house the afternoon of Dec. 30, 1993. Both victims had been shot in the head and chest.
Because of publicity in Anne Arundel, the trial was moved to Howard County.
Ware sat stone-faced yesterday at the trial table, where he had pleaded for his life the day before, as the sentence was read.
The victims' families showed no emotion, but one of the eight women on the jury sobbed quietly as the court clerk polled each juror individually. Under Maryland law, only a unanimous jury may order a death sentence.
"It's got to be one of the toughest things you ever have to do," jury foreman Henry Brodersen, 29, of Columbia said later, his eyes misting.
During the past two days the jury heard Ware apologize for the murders, saw photos of him as a child and heard testimony from his mother, two childhood friends and his high school football coach.
But they also heard from the fathers of both victims and viewed the victims' photographs before deciding.
Outside the courthouse, jurors hugged victims' relatives, expressed sympathy for them and were thanked and hugged back.
"I don't know if things will ever be OK, but thank you," Ramon Vega, Mrs. Allen's father, told one juror.
Family members said they were relieved and gratified by the sentence.
"I think he deserves it, the way he killed those two girls," said Cely Vega, Mrs. Allen's mother.
Edward Gentry, Ms. Gentry's father, said, "It doesn't help bring Kristi back, but it does relieve some of the pain."
Deputy state's attorney Gerald K. Anders said afterward that Ware brought the death penalty on himself by the brutal nature of the crimes.
"It was the lack of any excuse or any possible reason that anyone could come up with for this," he said. "There was no evidence in his background of abuse, or an unhappy home life, or anything that would have led anyone to ever do something like this," he said.
But Ware's lawyers said they were perplexed.
"I respect the jury's efforts and their sincerity, but I don't understand how they balanced the factors and achieved the result that they did," said assistant public defender Mark Blumberg.