Death row appeal based on judge's residency


In a bid for a new sentencing hearing for a man on death row, the lawyer for Wesley Baker yesterday asked the state's highest court either to rule that the Harford County judge who sentenced Baker to die forfeited his judicial authority by temporarily moving from the county or to order a fact-finding hearing on the allegation that the judge moved.

"I'm here because Wesley Baker sits on the precipice of being executed by a judge who did not have the authority" to sentence him, Stuart Jay Robinson, Baker's lawyer, argued to the Court of Appeals.

But Assistant Attorney General Anne N. Bosse told the seven-member court that even if Judge Cypert O. Whitfill temporarily lived in Cockeysville during the late 1980s, as alleged by Baker's lawyer, he did not switch to a new permanent address or lose his judicial authority in Harford County. Besides, she said, Baker should have raised the issue years ago, not three weeks before his scheduled execution.

In 1992, at a time when all agree that Whitfill lived in Harford, he sentenced Baker to die for fatally shooting 49-year-old Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren in a 1991 robbery that netted $10. The crime occurred in the parking lot at Westview Mall in Catonsville, but Baker asked to be tried outside Baltimore County.

The state's top judges peppered both sides with questions - among them, what would become of more than a decade of Whitfill's rulings if it was determined that he moved, that he did not meet residency requirements and so lost his judgeship in the 1980s. Whitfill retired in 1999.

The issue has come up before. In 1990, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz denied a request for a new trial when Robinson contended that Whitfill had no jurisdiction to sentence Timothy Scott Sherman to two life terms for the 1987 shotgun slayings of his parents.

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions in May, just days before Baker was to die. A bill to halt executions in Maryland appears to be on the way to a final Senate vote today.

Prosecutors would have to approach Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to sign a new death warrant.

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