The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned yesterday the death sentence of Joseph R. Metheny, a Baltimore man who admitted killing a prostitute and begged the jury at sentencing to let him die.
The court found insufficient evidence that Metheny had robbed the woman, an aggravating circumstance that allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Metheny confessed to killing Cathy Ann Magaziner in 1994 near the Southwest Baltimore pallet company where he worked. When he was sentenced by a Baltimore County jury four years later, Metheny's lawyers said that although the defendant buried Magaziner's clothing and a purse in a different place than her body, his removal of the items was not part of the crime.
In yesterday's decision, the appeals court agreed.
Noting the lack of evidence of robbery, the court sent the case back to Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. The court's action could lead to a life sentence without parole for Metheny.
The appeals court also noted Smith's "personal reservations about the sentence," which he expressed in a report to the state's highest court after the jury sentenced Metheny to death.
Metheny was charged with robbery, the judge noted, only because the body and the clothing were found in different locations.
"Another person who had killed their victim ... but buried the victim in her clothes would not qualify for the death penalty," Smith wrote.
At the time of sentencing, Metheny was serving life without parole for the murder of Kimberly Spicer in 1996, and 50 years for an attempted sex offense and the kidnapping of Rita Kemper, also in 1996.
The case was moved from Baltimore - where Metheny killed Magaziner - to the county, where he pleaded guilty to murder and robbery.
Metheny used graphic language in begging the jury for the death penalty, and at one point said: "The words 'I'm sorry' will never come out, for they would be a lie. I am more than willing to give up my life for what I have done, to have God judge me and send [me] to hell for eternity."
He later said he killed because "I just enjoyed it."
The jury deliberated for slightly more than two hours before sentencing him.
Metheny's lawyer, Margaret Mead, said yesterday that the appeals court "made the right decision" by acknowledging insufficient evidence of a robbery, because the purse and clothing were simply "left" after Metheny killed Magaziner.
She also said Metheny pleaded guilty to the robbery charge against the advice of his lawyers.
Mead said she had not spoken to Metheny but suspected he would be happy, even though he told the jury he wanted to die.
"Once the fanfare was over, he realized he really does want to live," she said.
Prosecutor Vickie Wash did not return a phone call yesterday.