On Maryland's Death Row: John Booth-El

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By Vicki Kriz
Maryland Newsline
Friday, May 8, 2009

John Booth-El, 55, convicted of murdering an elderly couple when robbing their home in 1984, has been on death row for almost 25 years.

Court records state that on May 19, 1983, Booth-El, with another individual, broke into the home of Irvin and Rose Bronstein, ages 78 and 75 respectively, presumably to steal money to purchase drugs. The Bronsteins were Booth’s neighbors.

Booth bound, gagged and stabbed them multiple times with a kitchen knife, court records state.

In 1984, Booth-El was charged in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City with the first-degree murder of the Bronsteins, two counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy. He was given the death penalty for the murder of Irvin Bronstein and was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Rose Bronstein; this sentence was reaffirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

But in 1987, his death sentence was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court said the prosecutor’s use of victim impact statements -- written documentation on the effect of the crime on the victim’s family that is included in every felony case in Maryland -- had biased the jury. The court ordered a new sentencing hearing in Booth-El’s case.

In 1988, Booth-El was again sentenced to death by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned it because prosecutors did not allow Booth-El’s defense attorneys to tell the jury that he would soon be eligible for parole. The court ordered a new setencing hearing

Booth-El was sentenced to death by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for a third time in 1990. The sentence was overturned in U.S. District Court in 2001; a Maryland law in effect at the time of Booth-El’s crime said the offender’s intoxicated state should be taken into account when deciding his sentence. Because Booth-El was intoxicated at the time of his crimes, this law would have applied. But prior to Booth-El’s hearing, intoxication was removed from the law as a justifiable state and the jury was told to disregard Booth-El’s intoxication when deciding his sentence.

His death sentence was reinstated by the Fourth Circuit Court U.S. Court of Appeals in 2003.

Due to an appeal made to the Maryland Court of Appeals by Vernon Lee Evans, all executions in Maryland were put on hold in 2006 until the legislature approved a new protocol. The protocol is under review.

Booth-El’s attorney, Mike Millemann, said his client has several petitions pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.  

Booth-El is one of the five men now on Maryland’s death row.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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