Maryland’s Racist Death Machine

Wesley Baker’s Case Shows The Injustices Of The System


Wesley Baker
By: Mike Stark

Wesley Eugene Baker was scheduled to die in the state of Maryland during the week of May 12 as we were producing the New Abolitionist.

This case illustrates the racist and arbitrary nature of Maryland’s death row. Baker is a poor Black man accused of killing a white woman, Jane Tyson, in affluent, mostly white Baltimore County in 1991.

The county’s method of seeking death first and asking questions later, combined with its overwhelming percentage of white prosecutors, judges, and jurors, makes it no surprise that impoverished Black defendants such as Baker end up on death row. In fact, Maryland has one of the highest percentages of Blacks on death row in the country. Yet these numbers do not reflect actual patterns of crime.

Each year, Blacks account for about 80 percent of Maryland’s murder victims, yet 92 percent (12 of 13) of those currently on death row are accused of killing whites. Also, Black-on-white crime accounts for less than 5 percent of murders annually, yet 62 percent (eight of 13) on death row are Blacks accused of killing whites.

These shocking statistics prompted Governor Parris Glendening to order a $250,000 study of whether racism affects Maryland’s death penalty. Baker is scheduled to die in May, four months before the study is to be completed.

Worse, it isn’t clear that Baker was guilty of firing the shot that killed Tyson. To receive the death penalty, a defendant must be the "principal" participant in a murder. The jury at Baker’s trial never heard about the background of his co-defendant, Gregory Lawrence. He had a criminal record, including an at-gunpoint carjacking virtually identical to the crime that Baker was accused of. Also, several witnesses contradict each other’s and prosecutors’ versions of events.

Baker’s case also shows how prosecutors will spin facts in order to sell the death penalty. Based merely on the fact that Tyson was killed by a single shot fired at close range, prosecutors convinced the jury that Baker planned the murder from the outset -- and therefore deserved to die. But the facts indicate the shooting wasn’t an intentional killing, but a botched robbery attempt.

Campaigners and other opponents of the death penalty are mobilizing a campaign of pressure to demand that Baker’s execution be stopped.