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Killer Used Bogus Letters To Get High Court To Reverse Death Penalty

November 14, 1985

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A man convicted of a double murder apparently forged two favorable character references cited by the state’s highest court in reversing his death sentence, prosecutors said Thursday.

Prosecutors immediately began looking for the best way to bring the matter back to the Court of Appeals.

″We don’t want this guy to have the benefit of his own fraud,″ said Baltimore’s chief prosecutor, State’s Attorney Kurt Schmoke.

Both disputed letters said favorable things about the defendant, Willie Reid. In deciding whether to impose the death sentence, a jury in Maryland must consider any mitigating circumstances.

City Jail Warden Paul Davis uncovered the apparent deception after reading a newspaper story about the high court’s decision to order a new sentencing hearing for Reid, Schmoke said.

In reversing the death penalty, the court referred to two letters, written on the warden’s stationery, signed by Capt. Matthew Saunders and Vance Rosenbaum, treatment director at a nearby rehabilitation center.

The appeals court said the judge presiding over Reid’s sentencing erred by not permitting the jury to consider the two letters, which praised the defendant for making progress in his education, drug rehabilitation and developing self-discipline.

The Saunders letter described Reid as ″well-mannered, well-liked and responsible.″

Davis told prosecutors that a thorough search found no evidence that anybody with those names ever worked at the jail or the rehabilitation center. The warden also said there was a policy barring employees from writing anything on behalf of inmates.

Reid, 38, and co-defendant John E. Booth were convicted in separate trials last year in the stabbing deaths of Rose Bronstein, 75, and her 78-year-old husband, Irvin, during a May 18, 1983, robbery at their home in northwest Baltimore.

The Bronsteins were bound, gagged and stabbed 12 times by the robbers, who stole jewelry from the house to help them obtain heroin.

Booth, 32, also was sentenced to the gas chamber.

The attorney general’s office was asked to investigate because it handles death penalty cases before the appeals court, Schmoke said.

″The problem that we face is that we want the court to reconsider their decision on the basis of information that’s not on the record,″ Schmoke said.

Retired Circuit Judge James W. Murphy, who presided at Reid’s sentencing, did not explain on the record why the two letters were excluded from the jury.

Although the record doesn’t show it, prosecutors said the judge expressed reservations about the authenticity of the letters and had asked the defense to produce the writers in order to have the evidence included, according to Schmoke. Reid’s attorney did not pursue the offer.

Deborah Chasanow, chief of the attorney general’s criminal division, said the state would probably ask the appeals court to send the case back to the trial court to establish on the record the authenticity of the letters.

If the court determined the letters were bogus, the case could then be sent back to the Court of Appeals. The court could then weigh the new evidence, as well as any other evidence it didn’t consider previously, Ms. Chasanow said.

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