Morris apologizes to slain officer's family

The Baltimore Sun

After remaining mostly silent during three weeks of proceedings in his death penalty case, Brandon T. Morris yesterday addressed the judge who will decide his sentence - and apologized to the family of the correctional officer he was convicted of killing.

"There's nothing I can do to ease the pain and sorrow," said Morris, who stood briefly to address Judge Joseph P. Manck at the conclusion of a three-day sentencing hearing in Howard County Circuit Court.

"If I could change what happened, I would," he said. "... I will have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life."

Morris did not testify during his trial and there had been no indication that he would make a statement yesterday until his attorney called on him to do so after closing arguments. Morris, who wore blue prison-issue clothing, spoke softly while making his remarks.

The ex-wife and sister of the victim, Jeffery A. Wroten, sat about 20 feet from Morris, listening attentively and showing no reaction.

Manck said he will announce Morris' sentence Monday.

The prosecution wants the death penalty for Morris, 22, who was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in the killing of Wroten in January 2006. Last week, a jury found Morris guilty of shooting the officer in the face while escaping from Washington County Hospital.

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, according to court records. Wroten was guarding Morris overnight.

During yesterday's closing arguments, prosecutor Joseph Michael argued that Maryland law leaves the judge no choice but to sentence Morris to death because of "aggravating factors" associated with the killing, including that it occurred during a robbery and an escape.

"The framework that has been built over time of law and action will lead you to a single conclusion," the Washington County deputy state's attorney said to Manck. "It's not a desire to end another person's life. It is a process that has been set in stone ... a process that you must follow."

Moreover, Michael argued that Morris is a danger to society and has no respect for human life.

"He doesn't value the life of Jeffery Wroten," Michael said. "Why should we value his?"

Michael reminded the judge how much Wroten loved his four daughters and how, just hours before starting his last shift, he disco-danced with them at home.

"He was begging for his life," Michael said. "The man was so proud of his family that he told his killer about them."

Yet the defense countered that the judge must consider Morris' difficult childhood - which included sexual abuse, homelessness and continual exposure to drugs and crime - when deciding on a sentence.

"That couldn't be further from the law in any way I can imagine," said defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli, referring to the prosecution argument that the death penalty is the only legal option.

"You wouldn't need to go through the process if it were that simple," he said.

Tuminelli argued that the death penalty should be reserved for the "worst of the worst" and that sentencing all murderers to death is arcane legal philosophy.

"Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth ... that was the jurisprudence of 2,000 years ago," Tuminelli said. "What Mr. Morris did is a terrible thing, but it's way beyond the types of felony murders that are inconceivably worse."

Tuminelli called the prosecution's effort to discredit many of the defense witnesses a "weak attempt" and said the judge would not be "doing the victims any favor by imposing the death sentence" because of the lengthy and emotionally wrenching appeals process that often follows.

He reiterated that Morris did not have the opportunities that others have had in life.

"If one is being fair, we don't kill the weak," Tuminelli said. "We don't kill the feeble. We don't kill the disadvantaged."

During a brief rebuttal, the prosecution again put the focus on the victim.

"Brandon Morris wasn't weak and feeble when he pulled the trigger on Jeffery Wroten. ... It's not that hard to look at a helpless man and not kill him," Michael said to the judge.

If he does not receive a death sentence, Morris will serve life in prison without parole.

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