The U.S. Supreme Court rejected yesterday the appeal of a Baltimore man whose death sentence has become a focal point for opponents of capital punishment.
The court rejected without comment Eugene S. Colvin-el's request for a review of his conviction for the 1980 killing of a Florida woman who was visiting her daughter in Pikesville. The decision sets the stage for his execution, possibly within the next few months.
Baltimore County prosecutors said yesterday that they would file a request in the next several days asking that Colvin-el's death warrant be signed by Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. Heller presided over the Anne Arundel jury that sentenced Colvin-el to death after a series of appeals in 1992.
"We intend to go forward and seek the warrant," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor.
Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general who handles death penalty appeals, said that after Heller signs the warrant, Colvin-el, 55, must be executed within four to eight weeks -- unless Gov. Parris N. Glendening commutes the sentence to a life term.
Death penalty opponents said they were disappointed with the decision.
"It's dismaying that the state's policy leaders have let this case get as far as it has," said Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Lawyers plan appeal
Colvin-el's lawyers said yesterday that they plan to appeal, to Glendening and to other courts, if possible.
John H. Morris Jr., who has represented Colvin-el since 1984, said that he is reviewing Supreme Court decisions from last week and yesterday vacating four death sentences to see whether the rulings could be applied.
"We're still in the process of trying to determine what legal issues have been raised that a court could consider," Morris said.
Michelle Byrnie, a Glendening spokeswoman, said the governor supports the death penalty but will review the Colvin-el case after the warrant is signed.
"His position is that he will review every death penalty case on a case-by-case basis," Byrnie said.
Colvin-el was sentenced to death by two juries for killing Lena S. Buckman, a former Baltimore resident who was stabbed 25 times on her 82nd birthday during a robbery at her daughter's Pikesville home.
Colvin-el's appeal to the Supreme Court in September occurred after more than a decade of appeals.
The case dates from 1981, when Colvin-el asked the first jury that convicted him to spare his life.
"There's a lot in my life you don't know about," he told the all-white jury. "The way we live. The corruption I have seen. The struggle I have had.
"There is no way you could be a jury of my peers," said Colvin-el, who is black.
A federal judge in Maryland vacated his death sentence in 1998, only to be reversed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in June.
National, local debates
The decision yesterday occurs amid debates nationally and in Maryland over the fairness of the death penalty, with critics arguing that too many defendants are wrongly convicted.
State Del. Salima S. Marriott, a West Baltimore Democrat, introduced a bill in this year's legislative session calling for a three-year moratorium on executions in Maryland, but it did not pass.
Byrnie said that Glendening has no plans for a moratorium, but that he has approved a $225,000 study of the death penalty to determine whether racial bias is a factor in how it is applied.
Dowling and other capital punishment opponents say racial disparities remain a major concern. Of the 17 inmates sentenced to death in Maryland, 13 are black.