SNOW HILL — A Baltimore man sentenced to die in Worcester County Circuit Court three decades ago for a gruesome double murder in Baltimore County in 1983 may have finally exhausted his appeals after a Maryland high court this week upheld the lower court’s ruling in on his motion on a bid for a new trial.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals this week denied the latest appeal of Vernon Lee Evans, who was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder by a Worcester County Circuit Court jury in 1984 and sentenced to death. Evans was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting death of two victims in a murder-for-hire plot in a Baltimore County hotel in 1983, and when the state announced it would seek the death penalty, Evans requested a change of venue and the high profile case was transferred to the Worcester County Circuit Court in quiet Snow Hill in 1984.
According to court documents, Evans was hired by noted drug kingpin Anthony Grandison to kill David Piechowicz and his wife Cheryl, who were set to testify against Grandison a week later in a federal narcotics trial. Evans went to the Warren House Motel in Baltimore County where Piechowicz and his wife worked and shot and killed David Piechowicz and who he thought was Cheryl Piechowicz. However, never having seen his targets before, Evans did shoot David Piechowicz, but also his sister-in-law Susan Kennedy, who was filling in for her sister. According to court documents, Evans shot the two victims with a machine pistol, firing 19 rounds.
Grandison and Evans were indicted together for the murder of the two victims, but the two cases were later severed before trial. When the state announced it would seek the death penalty in the case against Evans, he requested a change of venue as was the protocol in capital cases, and his trial was sent to Worcester County Circuit Court. According to accounts, the high profile double murder case created quite a stir in otherwise quiet Snow Hill.
A Worcester County jury found Evans guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced the defendant to death. Evans in 1990 appealed the jury’s death sentence verdict in Worcester County Circuit Court, asserting there were at least 22 errors during the sentencing process. Then-Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenberg carefully reviewed Evans’ 22 error claims and found merit in only one, an error he discovered during the jury instruction phase.
As that error only affected the sentencing, and not the determination of guilt or innocence, the Worcester County Circuit Court judge granted Evans a new sentencing hearing, but denied a request for a whole new trial. However, Evans decided against having a new sentencing hearing in Worcester County and asked that the hearing be moved back to Baltimore County, a motion Eschenberg granted. After a new sentencing hearing in Baltimore County in 1992, Evans was again sentenced to die for the double murders.
In the many years since, Evans has filed 11 appeals to the Maryland Court of Appeals and at least seven to the U.S. Supreme Court. The latest was filed in the Court of Special Appeals in February 2014 during which Evans motioned for a correction in sentence, essentially asserting his death sentence was illegal because he was convicted in Worcester County and sentenced in Baltimore County.
“Evans contends that the court erred in denying his motion to correct an illegal sentence because, when the case was removed from Baltimore County to Worcester County, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County was forever divested of jurisdiction and the Circuit Court for Worcester County lacked authority to order that venue be transferred back to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County for resentencing,” the opinion reads.
However, the Court of Special Appeals ruled this week Evans’ appeal was fatally flawed because he himself requested his original trial be moved to Worcester County and later requested his resentencing hearing be moved back to Baltimore County.
“Evans invited the trial court to transfer the case to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County for resentencing,” the opinion reads. “Hence, Evans failed to preserve for our review any issue as to the trial court’s ruling. Even if Evans’ contention was preserved for our review, he would not prevail.”
In terms of the death penalty sentence, the issue is somewhat moot because Maryland legislators abolished the death penalty in 2013. Last January, outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley commuted Evans’ two death penalty sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with four other death row inmates.