On Maryland's Death Row: Vernon Evans

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By Vicki Kriz
Capital News Service
Friday, May 1, 2009

Vernon Lee Evans Jr., 59, convicted of a 1983 double murder at a Baltimore County motel, has been on death row for almost 25 years.

According to Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, if the death penalty is reinstated in Maryland, Evans would most likely be the first to face execution.

Evans was convicted of murdering David Scott Piechowicz and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, at the Warren House Motel in Baltimore County on April 28, 1983.

According to court documents, Evans was hired by Anthony Grandison to kill Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, for a payment of $9,000. The pair were scheduled to testify against Grandison in a narcotics case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  But having never seen his targets in person, Evans mistakenly killed Kennedy, who was filling in for her sister (Piechowicz’s wife) at the motel, where they were employees.

Evans shot Piechowicz and Kennedy with a MAC-11 machine pistol, firing 19 bullets, court records state.

Indictments were filed against both Evans and Grandison in U.S. District Court for witness tampering and violating the Piechowiczes’ civil rights to act as witnesses in a judicial proceeding. Both Evans and Grandison were convicted of these charges.

Four indictments were also filed against the two men in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of use of a handgun in the context of committing a crime of violence. Upon request, Evan’s trial was transferred to the Circuit Court for Worcester County.

According to court documents, the most damaging witness testimony came from Evans’ girlfriend, Charlene Sparrow, who told the jury she drove with Evans to the motel the night of the murders and was asked to wipe off the literally smoking gun Evans used that night.

Evans was found guilty in Worcester County Circuit Court of all crimes and was sentenced to death in 1984.

However, that sentence was later vacated, and Evans was granted a resentencing hearing.

Upon Evan’s request, his new sentencing hearing was transferred back to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. At that hearing in 1992, he admitted he was involved in the murders of Piechowicz and Kennedy, but not as the “triggerman.” He apologized to the victims’ families for the pain he caused them as a result of his crimes. The jury concluded that Evans should indeed receive two death sentences. The Court of Appeals of Maryland agreed with this decision.

On Feb. 24, 2005, the Court of Appeals ordered he be executed by lethal injection within five days of April 18, 2005.

Evans has appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals more than 10 times, with limited success. On Feb. 28, 2005, Evans made an appeal referencing a 2002 University of Maryland study conducted by Raymond Paternoster, professor of criminology and criminal justice. The study found that prosecutors were more likely to seek the death penalty for African-American offenders whose victims were white -- especially in Baltimore County, where Evans was on trial. Evans claimed such discrimination affected the course of his sentencing. The Court of Appeals concluded that Evans’ appeal was unfounded, stating that there was no evidence that the state’s attorney, the judge ruling on the case, or the jury were influenced by any of these factors in determining his sentence.

Evans would use the Paternoster study in several future appeals. However, they were never successful.

But on Feb. 6, 2006, Maryland’s Court of Appeals granted Evans a stay of execution based on his argument that Maryland’s execution protocol was being implemented illegally --since it had not been presented at a public hearing or been reviewed by state lawmakers.

All executions were put on hold until the legislature approved a new protocol. The protocol is currently under review.

Vernon Evans 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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