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Sen. Mooney's vote kills Md. death penalty repeal

March 16, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A proposed repeal of Maryland's death penalty failed Thursday when a Washington County representative cast a key vote of opposition.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee's vote was 5-5. At least six votes in favor were needed for the bill to pass.

The committee's 11th member, Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil/Harford, a death penalty supporter, was absent because of a death in her family.

With 10 on the committee evenly split, Sen. Alex X. Mooney, who is Catholic, was considered to have the deciding vote. For weeks, his publicly chronicled difficulty in reconciling his religion's sanctity for life with his conservative views of punishment left many wondering which he'd go.

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In the end, Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, voted no to the repeal, but only after offering a compromise amendment: limiting the death penalty to cases in which the murderer was serving time in a correctional facility. His amendment was defeated 9-1.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City, who sponsored the bill, fought attempts to limit the death penalty instead of an outright ban. "You can't be a little bit pregnant and you can't have a little bit of a repeal," she said.

Speculating that the repeal bill wouldn't pass, Sen. Jamin B. "Jamie" Raskin, D-Montgomery, proposed another substitute amendment: having a commission study issues surrounding the death penalty, with the possibility of repealing it next year.

Mooney voted in favor of the commission, but it also failed. The vote was 5-5.

Repeal proponents were optimistic this year because the new governor, Democrat Martin O'Malley, vowed to sign the bill if it passed. O'Malley testified in favor of the repeal in Senate and House committees last month.

The previous governor, Republican Robert Ehrlich, supported the death penalty.

Even without a repeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals previously put executions on hold because of procedural questions.

Another Washington County representative, Republican Del. Christopher B. Shank, sits on the Judiciary Committee, which heard the repeal bill on the House side.

Shank said he supports the death penalty as a punishment for heinous crimes, such as the murder of a correctional officer.

Before Thursday's vote, Mooney read from a statement acknowledging his internal struggle as "a philosophy major from Dartmouth College who takes matters of faith seriously ...."

Arguing against a "full and absolute repeal," Mooney said, "If we were to run our prison system safely, there would be virtually no need for the death penalty. It is my view that society has not only a right, but a duty to protect itself from those who find ways to continue to kill others even while in prison."

Mooney's amendment covered all murders by people serving prison sentences, meaning it would apply, for example, to an inmate killing a correctional officer outside of a prison, he said.

Last year, Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery A. Wroten was shot while guarding an inmate at Washington County Hospital and later died. The inmate, Brandon Morris, faces murder charges.

http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/sb0211.htm

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