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Mooney could be swing vote on death penalty repeal

February 18, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley once again is asking state lawmakers to ban the death penalty.

Previous attempts have failed, and it remains unclear if the bill will be successful this year.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, is considered a key swing vote and could be the deciding factor on whether the legislation moves forward. He sits on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which heard the bill Wednesday.

No action was taken.

Under the bill, life without parole would replace the death penalty as the most severe punishment for criminal acts.

Mooney did not support a similar ban in 2007, but said he would consider supporting a compromise bill this year that would ban capital punishment, except in cases when an inmate is killed while in prison.

He said in that case, the death penalty is the "only way to stop the killing."

Mooney asked O'Malley Wednesday whether he would be willing to amend his bill to include that exception.

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O'Malley said one exception could lead to many, and he favored an "outright repeal."

The 22-member Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which formed last year, also recommended a repeal of the death penalty, citing racial and jurisdictional disparities in death penalty sentencing.

Mooney said he was keeping an open mind on the issue, and still was uncertain how he would vote. When the death penalty ban last was proposed, the committee Mooney sits on was split 5-5. However, Mooney said he does favor the bill being heard by the full Senate.

The bill could move to the Senate without a favorable vote by the committee. Lawmakers would have to bypass the committee vote by petitioning the bill to the full Senate, a move that would take the support of 16 senators in a chamber presided over by a death penalty supporter, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

O'Malley and Miller both said Wednesday the death penalty ban deserves a fair up-or-down vote before the Senate, which also is divided on the issue.

Hagerstown resident Marty Price entered testimony in Wednesday's bill hearing, asking lawmakers to abolish the death penalty.

Price wrote his father attempted to shoot him and his mother when he was 12 years old, and his father later murdered his stepmother and stepsister. His father still is in prison.

Price said in his testimony he is opposed to capital punishment because of its impact on victim's families, who can let anger and hate consume them.

"In my experience, the only true antidote to neutralizing anger is found in one of the most difficult acts in times of grief -- forgiveness," he wrote. "More violence is more violence ... no matter who issues it."

Price also signed his name to a letter from many family members who lost loved ones to murder and oppose the death penalty.

Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for states to bring it back. Since then, five people have been executed in Maryland.

Lawmakers said Wednesday there are five people in Maryland currently on death row.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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