Thirteen years after he was convicted of shooting a woman to death at a Baltimore County mall while two of her grandchildren looked on, Wesley Eugene Baker was executed last night by lethal injection.
Baker, 47, was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m., making him the fifth person put to death in Maryland since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
Five reporters and four relatives of the victim, along with three lawyers and Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, witnessed Baker's last breaths.
The condemned man was secured to a steel table with brown leather straps, a sheet pulled up to his chin. Only his arms, face and thin braids were visible.
Baker's chest heaved as the chemicals were administered through two tubes in his left arm and one in his right. His breathing became rapid and so loud that it could be heard through the glass partition.
Gary W. Christopher and Franklin W. Draper, the public defenders who have represented Baker the longest, rose from their seats on the third row of bleachers. When Baker's body stopped moving, the lawyers sat down, draped their arms around each other's shoulders and hung their heads. Katy O'Donnell, a state public defender, wiped away tears.
Draper later whispered to O'Donnell, "I hope he finds the peace he never found in this world."
About 50 death penalty opponents protested the execution outside in light snow. Minutes before 9 p.m. they began to sing "Amazing Grace," and at the appointed execution time of 9 p.m., they broke into a variation on "This Little Light of Mine" - "All around death row, I'm going to let it shine."
Before the execution, Christopher visited Baker in Cell No. 2 of the Metropolitan Transition Center, the Baltimore prison that houses the state's death chamber.
"He's made his peace," said Christopher. "We just talked quietly. There was some joking, laughing, trying to inject a little bit of levity into the situation. But it didn't last long."
About 8 p.m. Gary W. Proctor, an attorney for Baker, told protesters that Baker had been with his mother, Delores Williams; his sister and brother; and a childhood friend. They talked about movies and chatted. When they were told they had to leave, Baker cried.
Lori James-Monroe, a social worker who aided Baker's legal defense, said that at the end of the visit, the guards permitted his mother to approach the cell.
Baker's last meal consisted of breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread and milk, a corrections spokesman said.
Martin E. Andree, the brother of Baker's victim, Jane Tyson, said last night by phone from his Florida home: "It's over for us and it's over for him. The wound will heal. Now, there won't be any more picking the scab. Every time there was an appeal, it was like peeling the scab off of the wound."
The last obstacles to the execution began to fall late yesterday afternoon, when the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected an emergency stay and the U.S. Supreme Court declined requests to review three unfavorable lower court rulings. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. denied a clemency appeal.
In a statement released just before the execution, Ehrlich said, "After a thorough review of the request for clemency, the facts pertinent to this petition, and the judicial opinions regarding this case, I decline to intervene."
"My sympathies tonight lie with the families of all those involved in this heinous and brutal crime," Ehrlich said. It is the second execution during his administration.
In the past few weeks, Baker's lawyers had stepped up the pace of more than 10 years of appeals, arguing that Maryland's death penalty is skewed by race and geography and that evidence of Baker's abusive and chaotic childhood in East Baltimore should have been introduced at the sentencing phase of his trial in 1992.
Cardinal William H. Keeler took the unusual step of visiting Baker on death row last week, appealing for mercy to Ehrlich, who signed Baker's death warrant a month ago. Keeler and other Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders yesterday joined to call for commutation of the death sentence.
Baker, who grew up in the Waverly area of Baltimore, was convicted in the murder and robbery of Tyson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide at a Baltimore County elementary school. She was shot once in the head in the parking lot of the Westview Mall on the evening of June 6, 1991.
After shopping for shoes with two of her grandchildren that evening, Tyson helped the 6-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl into her Buick LeSabre, then settled in behind the wheel about 8:30 p.m.
The gunman appeared at her window, and the boy later told police he heard his grandmother scream "No" before she was shot.
The gunman grabbed her purse, which police said contained $10 in cash, and fled with another man in a blue Chevrolet Blazer. Baker's lawyers continued to argue through their last appeals and a commutation sent to the governor that evidence did not conclusively show Baker fired the shot that night. They argued during the trial that no witnesses identified him and no fingerprints were left on the handgun found in the Blazer.
In her closing arguments at the trial, Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor told the jury: "Don't forget that that Mr. Baker's fingerprints were the only ones found on the window of Mrs. Tyson's car."
Under Maryland law, only a defendant convicted as the killer - in this case, the shooter - is eligible for the death penalty.
In October 1992, Baker was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and weapons charges. Several days later he was sentenced to death and two 20-year prison terms. The trial was held in Harford County Circuit Court because Baker asked that the proceedings be moved from Baltimore County.
Gregory Lawrence - who, like Baker, had served prison time for armed robbery convictions - was convicted of murder, robbery and handgun charges for acting as lookout and driver in the Tyson killing. He was sentenced in 1992 to life in prison plus 33 years.
Baker was born as the result of his mother's being raped when she was 12 or 13. By accounts of his mother, lawyers and 200 pages of official reports and affidavits, the boy was left to run the streets, turning to alcohol and drugs before he was a teenager.
Baker's lawyers had hoped that their case would be supported by a 2003 state-funded University of Maryland study that found the death penalty is more likely to be applied when the defendant is black and the victim is white, and that Baltimore County prosecutors are more likely than those elsewhere to seek the death penalty.
Lawyers for Baker cited the study in arguments before the Court of Appeals this year, but the court did not rule on the legal merits of that appeal. Baker became the first African-American to be executed since the release of the report.
Tyson was married with three children and, when she died, six grandchildren. She was remembered for her generosity and fondness for the children in her family and students at Riverview Elementary School in southwest Baltimore County, where she had worked for 10 years.
Tyson was active in her church, which was then St. Lawrence Church in Woodlawn, and was taking a class to become a Catholic. At the time of her death, her husband, John Tyson, was principal at Johnnycake Elementary School.
"People still remember this case," said S. Ann Brobst, a prosecutor in the case. "It especially rocked people because it was so cold that you could murder someone in front of their grandchildren. When you talk about a completely innocent victim, it could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been anybody."
Sun reporters Laura Barnhardt, Justin Fenton and Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.
June 6: A gunman shoots Jane Frances Tyson, 49, as she sits in her car with her two grandchildren in the parking lot of Catonsville's Westview Mall. He grabs her purse, which contains $10.
Oct. 24: A jury convicts the accused getaway driver, Gregory Lawrence, 34, of Woodlawn, of first-degree murder, armed robbery and a handgun violation. He is later sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years.
Oct. 26: A Harford County jury convicts Wesley Eugene Baker, 33, of Waverly of premeditated and deliberate murder and first- degree felony murder. The case had been moved to Harford County at Baker's request.
Oct. 30: Baker is sentenced to death and two consecutive 20-year sentences.
May 2: The U.S. Supreme Court turns down an appeal by Baker that contended two additional witnesses should have been called.
Apr. 29: The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal by Baker that his trial lawyers were ineffective .
Dec. 13: The Maryland Court of Appeals upholds the state's death penalty law.
March 19: Baker is scheduled to be executed the week of May 13.
May 9: Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposes a moratorium on the death penalty, halting Baker's execution, while a state-ordered University of Maryland study of capital punishment is conducted. The study will conclude that there are racial and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty in the state.
Oct. 3: The Maryland Court of Appeals turns down Baker's request to overturn his death sentence based on the University of Maryland study. His lawyers say they apparently used the wrong legal procedure and will refile their appeal.
Nov. 3: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., having effectively lifted Glendening's moratorium, signs a death warrant scheduling Baker's execution for the week of Dec. 5.
Nov. 23: The Maryland Court of Appeals denies Baker's request for a stay and a new sentencing hearing based on the University of Maryland study.
Nov. 28: Making his first visit to death row, Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's Catholic archbishop, offers a prayer over Baker and appeals to Ehrlich to commute the convicted killer's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dec. 1: A federal judge turns down Baker's request for a stay, ruling that he had not proven that the drugs used by the state cause unnecessary pain.
Dec. 5: The Maryland Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court reject Baker's final appeals, and the governor declines to commute his sentence. Baker is put to death about 9 p.m.
Sun staff reporting by Jennifer McMenamin
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