Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich is on a killing spree. Having just killed Wesley Baker on December 5th, he waited a little over a month to green-light the planned execution of Vernon Evans, set for February 6th.
Evans’s execution would be the third state killing since Ehrlich took office –more executions than any other Maryland Governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Making matters worse, Ehrlich has brushed off the results of a 2003 Governor-Commissioned study that found Maryland’s death penalty was applied in a racially biased and geographically arbitrary manner. The study found that Black defendants convicted of killing white victims were much more likely to receive a death sentence than any other racial combination. Vernon Evans, like most of those on Maryland’s death row, is a poor Black man accused of killing white victims. The specifics of Vernon’s case further expose Ehrlich’s murderous intent. Vernon has consistently maintained that he was not the shooter in the 1983 killings of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy. Prosecutors contend that Vernon was hired to kill Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, who had been scheduled to testify in an upcoming federal drug trial.
Too poor to afford a decent lawyer, Vernon was convicted in a trial based on snitch-testimony, contradictory eye-witnesses, and no physical evidence. Several witnesses were never allowed to testify at the trial, including the only eye-witness. This eyewitness later testified under oath that the shooter was a lot taller than Vernon (who is only 5’2″ and nicknamed “Shorty”) and that the shooter’s clothes did not match what Vernon was wearing at the time of the murders. Other witnesses have corroborated this account.
Also, In Vernon’s 1984 trial, the prosecutor used 8 of his 10 peremptory strikes (80%) against African Americans, even though they were only 20% of the potential jurors.
Prosecutors have made much of the sensational details of the 1983 crime, playing on public fears over drug related violence. However, at the intersection of poverty and crime, perpetrators and victims don’t line up so neatly. Vernon himself is no stranger to the devastating impact of poverty, drugs, and violence. As a child he was raised in an impoverished, broken home. He was the victim of repeated physical abuse and sexual abuse at the hands of a stranger. Suffering from despair, he attempted suicide at the age of 10. Only years later did he find himself sucked into Baltimore’s flourishing drug trade. Since then he has lost one son to random violence and another was paralyzed from a shooting.
Despite all this, Vernon’s humanity and compassion is evident to anyone who has come in contact with him. In fact, this might be the greatest challenge Governor Ehrlich faces in his effort to see Vernon die. Vernon and his family are active participants in the movement against the death penalty. Vernon has authored a blog (www.meetvernon.blogspot.com), conducted a seminar at Mount St. Mary’s College, and participated in numerous “Live from Death Row” speaking events. He has written, “When I was in society I did used to whine. But I would whine about things that didn’t involve life. I would say: “They tax me too much” “It sure is hot out today” “It’s too cold.” But now that I’ve been living with a death sentence for twenty-two years, I have had an education on how meaningful life is. I have come to understand that others may put little into life, no matter what end of the stick they are on. When I whine now, I whine because I have spent my life learning what others know to be true. I whine because there is a system in place that is not fair when it comes to taking a life. I know what others know to be true but turn away from.”
More and more this truth is gaining momentum. The public outrage that followed the execution of Wesley Baker has not diminished and in small but meaningful ways has begun to translate itself into activism against executions. Also, in a surprising development, the former Governor of Maryland and the man who oversaw two executions including that of Tyrone X Gilliam, Parris Glendening is citing concerns over racism on Maryland’s death row for calling for a moratorium in Maryland. We need to back up this call with a push on the ground to make sure Vernon isn’t killed. The time to organize is now. We don’t have much time.
Contact Governor Ehrlich immediately to demand a stop the execution of Vernon Evans at: 100 State Circle, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1925. Or reach him by phone at: 410.974.3591 or 1.800.811.8336. You can send an email by visiting: http://www.gov.state.md.us/mail/.
For more information on how you can get involved in the fight to stop the execution of Vernon Evans, contact the Campaign to End the Death Penalty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIKE STARK is a national board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). He is also a frequent contributor to the CEDP’s newsletter The New Abolitionist. He can be reached at: email@example.com