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Will killer's life term spare victim's kin more trauma?

February 01, 2008

A few thoughts on local issues:

The judge who sentenced convicted murderer Brandon Morris to life without parole called him "an evil man," but didn't impose the death penalty in order to spare the family of the late Jeffery Wroten the anguish of an almost-certain second trial.

Judge Joseph P. Manck who said he "went through the nightmare" himself when his mother was killed more than a dozen years ago, told the family of the slain correctional officer that all death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by Maryland's highest court.

Those reviews result in an overwhelming number of reversals, the judge said, which means the family must go through another trial.

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Only five people have been executed in Maryland since 1976 and the odds of an increase in that pace have decreased because of litigation over whether lethal injection is "cruel and unusual punishment."

The (Baltimore) Sun reported that appeals in some Maryland death-penalty cases have lasted more than two decades.

If only we could be sure that sparing this killer's life will pre-empt any appeals. Life, as Morris will come to realize, lasts a long time and there seems to be no shortage of people willing to excuse savage, senseless crimes like his because of an underprivileged upbringing.

My question: Isn't such thinking an insult to those who endured such a childhood and became law-abiding, productive citizens anyway?

Maryland Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, recently criticized for his decision not to attend delegation meetings, this week took action that indicated he might tend to his own bills and let his colleagues introduce their own, separate legislation.

The bill that caused some legislative heartburn concerned an attempt to clarify Hagerstown fire marshals' power to carry firearms and make arrests.

Most members of the delegation expected it to be filed as a delegation bill, but state Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, said Donoghue would file the bill individually and Munson would cross-file a companion bill in the state senate.

But Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, the delegation chairman, said the confusion over who would file what was "aggravating" and that the bill should have been filed as a delegation bill.

Memo to Del. Myers: Del. Donoghue has been aggravated. Whether he is justified in feeling that way is irrelevant, because he's the delegation's only member of the Democratic Party, which holds a majority of the seats in the Maryland General Assembly.

Sooner or later, the delegation will need his help to intercede with the leadership. Make peace now and you might get his help later.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III was reprimanded by the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities for referring to three women of color employed as attorneys in the Public Defender's Office as "the Supremes."

The judge also suggested that a defendant who wanted to replace his public defender be given "an experienced male attorney."

There is no dispute about any of this, because it happened in open court on April 24 of last year.

In case you weren't around more than 25 years ago, The Supremes were a three-member musical group that recorded from 1959 to 1977, with more than 10 No. 1 hits.

I doubt if the surviving members would appreciate the judge's reference. But as soon as he made it, he knew (or should have known) that he was in for "Nothing But Heartaches."

A recent visitor to Mail Call suggested that I might want to run for public office. I just can't figure out whether the author believes I'm really wise enough to do that, or just feels that I'm a know-it-all who's not as smart as he thinks he is.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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