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O'Malley uncommitted to lifting Md. death-penalty moratorium after lethal injection upheld in Neb.

April 17, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold a lethal-injection execution process won't lead to immediate changes in Maryland's de facto death-penalty moratorium.

In a brief written statement, Gov. Martin O'Malley, who favors abolishing the death penalty, said he first needs to review the seven written opinions in the Supreme Court's 7-2 vote in support of Kentucky's lethal-injection protocol.

Noting that the Maryland General Assembly approved a commission to study the death penalty, the governor said, "We will follow the law in both cases."

Meanwhile, Maryland House Republicans renewed pressure on O'Malley to address a procedural problem that has kept the state's death penalty on hold for about 16 months.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, the House minority whip, said O'Malley is continuing to disregard state law.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in December 2006 that the state improperly adopted its death-penalty procedure and couldn't execute inmates until the problem was corrected.

O'Malley, who took office in January 2007, hasn't addressed the flaw.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese last month said the governor was waiting for the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

Shank, though, said O'Malley could have corrected the state's procedural problem even while the Supreme Court case was pending.

Two hours after the decision was issued, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine lifted a capital-punishment moratorium he imposed April 1, The Associated Press reported.

The nation's last execution was in September in Texas, according to the AP.

The case before the Supreme Court was a challenge by death-row inmates in Kentucky. They alleged that drugs used for lethal injections could create significant pain, a violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Seven justices disagreed with the petitioners, although not cohesively; they issued six opinions among them.

The two dissenting justices argued that Kentucky didn't have basic safeguards to ensure the injection process wouldn't break down.

All of the 36 states with capital punishment use lethal injection. At least 30 use the same combination of three drugs for lethal injections, according to the court's decision.

Maryland and Pennsylvania use lethal injection for the death penalty. West Virginia doesn't have capital punishment.

A movement in Maryland to abolish the death penalty grew when O'Malley took office.

O'Malley testified last year in favor of a repeal bill, but it failed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee - in part because Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, voted against it.

The bill returned during the 2008 legislative session. But it didn't come up for a vote in Mooney's Senate committee, which had the same members as last year.

Mooney and other local Republican representatives have said the death penalty needs to be an option for inmates who kill correctional officers.

In January, Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate Brandon T. Morris was given life in prison instead of the death penalty after being convicted of murdering RCI Officer Jeffery A. Wroten.

This year, the General Assembly agreed to form a commission to further study the death penalty.

Shank said it looks like a preordained step in boosting the repeal movement, the same way New Jersey ended capital punishment.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said last week that anyone who believes the commission won't slant toward O'Malley's view "is a fool and should stay away from land purchases and bridge purchases."

House Republicans tried during the 2008 session to pass a bill exempting the death-penalty protocol from procedural requirements, but the bill failed.

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