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Man's second death penalty trial begins

With his lawyers by his side, a smartly dressed Clarence Conyers Jr. came into a Baltimore County courtroom yesterday for his third life-or-death trial.

The 35-year-old, accused of killing his former girlfriend's mother during a burglary and of then shooting to death the man prosecutors say was his accomplice, has been convicted of the murders once and sentenced to death twice.

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Yesterday, jury selection started for Conyers' second death-penalty trial and, if he is found guilty, his third death-penalty sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors said they plan to present the same case against the Woodlawn man. Defense attorneys said new information about the crimes will shift guilt away from their client.

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"It's just not the same case," said William B. Purpura, who is defending Conyers with attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli.

Neither side would go into specifics about its strategy or the details of the crime that would help its case.

"Our plan is the same as before," said Assistant State's Attorney John Cox, who has prosecuted Conyers with Assistant State's Attorney Peter Johnson since late 1994.

Jury selection, which is especially lengthy in a death-penalty case, is scheduled to continue all day today.

Conyers was charged in November 1994 with the Oct. 23 shooting death of Lawrence Markell Bradshaw, 22. He was awaiting trial on that charge when his cellmate told police that Conyers had admitted shooting to death 44-year-old Wanda Johnson on Oct. 21.

Johnson had been shot five times when she interrupted a burglary at her home in the 7100 block of Bexhill Road in northwestern Baltimore County.

Prosecutors say they think Conyers killed Bradshaw because Bradshaw was an accomplice in the Johnson murder and Conyers wanted to keep him from giving details to the police.

In his first trial, in 1996, Conyers was convicted and sentenced to death.

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A year later, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned that death sentence, saying prosecutors should not have talked about Conyers' 11 juvenile charges that were dismissed, only the seven convictions.

In 1998, Conyers was resentenced. Again, a jury decided he deserved the death penalty.

Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals set the stage for Conyers' third chance. The high court overturned his original 1996 conviction because prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that might have helped the defense.

The evidence involved Conyers' cellmate, Charles Johnson. Prosecutors did not tell defense attorneys that Johnson, who was incarcerated for armed robbery at the time, pushed for a plea agreement in his case before he would talk about Conyers.

Prosecutors did disclose later discussions with Johnson, but the high court said that was not enough.

"Defense counsel was entitled to explore and argue from all of the pertinent evidence as to Johnson's bias and credibility," Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote in the ruling.

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Defense attorneys said Johnson's original request for a plea deal will be part of the new evidence presented to jurors in the new trial.


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