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Committee passes death penalty moratorium

April 03, 2001

Committee passes death penalty moratorium



Annapolis

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Sen. Alex X. Mooney broke with fellow conservatives and cast the swing committee vote Tuesday to halt executions temporarily in Maryland, but the death penalty moratorium still faces a difficult journey to pass the Maryland General Assembly before the session ends at midnight Monday.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 6-5 to approve a one-year moratorium on executions so the state can finish a study on whether the death penalty is being fairly applied.

The House of Delegates has passed a two-year moratorium, and that discrepency, combined with hints by committe chairman Sen. Walter Baker that he might employ delay tactics on the Senate floor, make the bill's chances for passage unpredictable.

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Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he had a tough time parting with his fellow conservative lawmakers on the issue, but pointed out that no killers will be set free if the bill passes.

"I am greatly concerned about individuals near execution who have been proven innocent," he said.

Mooney tried to expand the study to find out whether criminals who are eligible for the death penalty are being paroled.

"We ought to look at making sure people who are dangerous to society are kept in prison," he said.

The committee rejected that argument, but approved another amendment Mooney offered to make it clear that people who are convicted of first-degree murder are still subject to life in prison without parole.

Changing the bill makes it more difficult to pass because it requires additional approvals from the House of Delegates.

"The more you (mess) this bill up the better I like it," said Baker, D-Eastern Shore.

Moratorium supporters were not happy with the amendments, in particular the one that shortened it by one year.

Since the study would end the same day as the moratorium - June 30, 2002 - the legislature wouldn't have time to take action on its findings, said Richard Dowling, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

"What the committee did was cut off its nose to spite its face," he said.

Jane Henderson, of Equal Justice USA, based in Prince Georges County, Md., said she hopes the full Senate will restore it to a two-year break in executions.

Death penalty supporters said delaying executions for any length of time is the first step toward eliminating capital punishment in Maryland.

"Someone has to speak up for the innocent victims of murder," said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Eastern Shore.

Baker, in a preview of a possible filibuster, recited details of the murders committed by the 13 inmates on death row in Maryland.

"These folks we're trying to help are killers. I just don't understand," he said.

Gov. Parris Glendening, who could veto the bill if it passes, already has the power to call off executions, Baker said.

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