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Baltimore Man Dies In Prison After Nearly 3 Decades On Death Row

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John Booth-El
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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)—John Booth-El had been on death row for almost three decades for the grisly killing of an elderly couple in Baltimore. Now his family and his victims’ loved ones are finally finding closure in his death.

Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren has more on the case that fueled passionate debate over the death penalty in Maryland and tore two families apart.

Maryland abolished the death penalty last year, but the pain over this notorious case has lingered for years.

The murders, 31 years ago, shook Baltimore to the core. Irvin and Rose Bronstein were bound, gagged, and stabbed 12 times each.

A jury convicted John Booth-El of the crime in 1990 for the brutal murders of  his Northwest Baltimore neighbors during a 1983 robbery.

For decades, Booth-El fought all the way to the Supreme Court, having his death sentence overturned three times. It was re-instated, and he remained on death row until his own death of natural causes over the weekend.

Booth-El, 60, died Sunday after staff found him unresponsive in his cell at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland.

“He said to me, ‘I’m a better man today than I was yesterday,’ and the next call that I got was Sunday morning from the chaplain,” said Booth-El’s sister.

His sister spoke to WJZ. She asked us not to use her name and to conceal her face.

“We’ve had public ridicule,” she said. “We’ve been ostracized by the public, but I stand firm today and believe that he has been released of his contract with the state of Maryland, and those chains have been broken.”

“To the Bronstein family, we’ve always prayed for them. It was horrific,” she said.

The case became a flashpoint in Maryland’s death penalty debate. WJZ followed the Bronsteins’ children over the years as they forcefully argued for it.

“I found my parents on the ground in their living room butchered,” said Barry Bronstein, victims’ son. “It’s not going away unless this is finished.”

Booth-El’s sister once supported the death penalty but now does not after a landmark study showed it was more likely to be applied to African-Americans.

“I started out for the death penalty early on, but I later came to the conclusion that there’s such racial disparities and it’s just downright unjust,” she said.

“I’m thankful in the sense that we’re getting closure. There are no winners. There are only broken people,” she continued.

The victims’ daughter did not want to do a formal interview but did tell WJZ that she does have some peace and closure because of this.

“For us, there was the pending doom that he could be executed. For the Bronsteins, it couldn’t come soon enough, so I understood both sides,” his sister said.

Booth-El’s death appears to be from natural causes, but a state medical examiner autopsy will determine the exact cause of death.

He was one of five death row inmates in Maryland, which has had a de facto death penalty moratorium since a 2006 ruling by the state’s highest court.

Booth-El was housed in a single cell like other death row inmates.

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