Arguing that convicted killer Brandon T. Morris should be spared the death penalty because of his difficult childhood, defense attorneys yesterday presented experts who testified that children who grow up neglected and abused are more prone to violence when they become adults.
During the second day of sentencing hearings in Howard County Circuit Court, a social worker described Morris' childhood as marked by sexual abuse by an older male and his mother, a lack of food, episodes of homelessness and continual exposure to drugs and crime.
"They just described such horrible living conditions during that time," Lori Townes, a clinical social worker, testified about interviews with Morris and his younger siblings.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for Morris, 22, who was convicted last week of first-degree murder and other charges in the killing of a correctional officer in January 2006. A jury found Morris guilty of shooting Jeffery A. Wroten while escaping from Washington County Hospital in January 2006.
Morris had been serving a seven-year sentence at Roxbury Correctional Institution for armed robbery and assault when he was taken to the hospital after stabbing himself near the liver with a needle. Wroten was guarding him overnight.
Morris often hung around outside liquor stores to collect spare change to buy food for his siblings, Townes testified, and he carried a Bible with him everywhere he went while growing up.
Until age 9, Morris lived in the Barclay and Midway neighborhoods of East Baltimore. When Morris was in the fourth grade, his family moved from their home at North Rose and McElderry streets after a large-scale police drug raid in the neighborhood.
During a break in the proceedings, Morris' brother, Edward "E.J." Green, said the death penalty is too harsh because of the conditions during childhood.
"It was hard for us growing up," said Green, 18, who has attended much of the proceedings. "He basically had to show me the way so I didn't make those type of decisions."
Green said he believes Morris was stabbed by someone else at Roxbury and notes that the large mark on Morris' forehead did not exist before he was incarcerated.
"I want [people] to know that the death penalty - that's like outrageous," Green said. "I just want my brother to keep his head up. I don't want them to hurt my brother."
The defense's other witnesses included an expert on youth violence, who testified about a poor quality of life for Morris in neighborhoods that were impoverished and rife with crime.
"These two neighborhoods were the incubators," said Hope M. Hill, professor of psychology at Howard University. "They probably ended up being the most toxic experiences, I would imagine, for the children living there."
Caroline Burry, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, based her testimony on a federal study that listed childhood risk factors for predicting violent behavior, including poor family bonding, poverty and the availability of drugs and firearms.
In cross-examination, prosecutors attempted to show that Morris lived in Baltimore County, not the city, for much of his later childhood and that the risk factors are not the sole indicators of future violence.
Earlier yesterday, Judge Joseph P. Manck said he expects to announce his decision on Morris' sentence Monday. Morris chose to have Manck decide his sentence instead of the jury that convicted him. In Maryland, a death-penalty case is the only kind in which a defendant can choose whether the judge or jury decides the sentence. Closing arguments are scheduled for today.