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Washington County delegation won't back death penalty repeal

January 15, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | Kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, speaks at a rally in support of repealing the state's death penalty in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday. O'Malley, who said he will be making repeal a priority, argued that the death penalty is a waste of resources that could be better used to fight crime in more productive ways.
Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS — Surrounded by a phalanx of legislators and death penalty opponents, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Tuesday that his office will make a firm push to repeal the death penalty in the state this legislative session.

“The death penalty is expensive and it does not work. And for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it,” O’Malley said at a press conference at the Senate Office Building where he was joined by Benjamin Jealous, the president and the CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

There have been similar efforts at the state capital the last few years, but Gov. O’Malley said Tuesday that he believes that both legislative houses have the will to repeal the death penalty this time around.

“I believe there is the will in the Senate and I also believe there is the will in the House,” O’Malley said.

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Several Washington County legislators said Tuesday that they did not support a repeal of the death penalty.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, said he stood firmly for the death penalty.

“There is a place for it,” Donoghue said. “Situations like schools and these malls, people who do things like that. I think should be considered for that.”

Donoghue said that if the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting had not committed suicide, “all these people who want to repeal the death penalty would be having second thoughts.”

Seventeen states do not have the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that researches the issue, with Connecticut the last state to repeal the penalty last year.

Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington who serves on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the death penalty in the state serves an appropriate purpose.

“Ultimately we need to have the highest sanction for the most heinous of crimes,” Shank said.

The senator said he believes that the death penalty statute in the state was “airtight,” especially after the laws were strengthened in 2009.

He said there was a very slim chance that a wrong person could be executed in the state after changes made to the law in 2009 when legislation limited death penalty cases to those with DNA evidence and other factors such as a videotaped confession.

Moreover, Shank said that having the death penalty on the books was an important tool in the plea bargain process. Without the penalty, plea bargain negotiations might be a lot different, he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert/Prince George’s, is against the repeal of the death penalty.

“It will be a close vote,” Miller said Tuesday.

There are legislators in Annapolis, including Miller, who believe that the issue will ultimately end up being decided by voters in a referendum.

According to the Associated Press, the state’s last execution was in December 2005 when Wesley Eugene Baker was put to death for the 1991 killing of a woman during a shopping center robbery in Baltimore County where her two grandchildren witnessed the crime.

There has been a moratorium on the death penalty in the state since 2006, when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state did not properly adopt its death penalty procedure.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Maryland hasn’t used the death penalty in recent years. “And they have only five people on death row,” he said.

“It will be a poignant issue if it goes to vote. Other states will be watching,” Dieter said.

He said that statistics from the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, show that each death sentence cost the state about $3 million during the lifetime of a case, while a capital punishment eligible case where prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty would cost the state about $1.1 million.

Gov. O’Malley also pointed out Tuesday that the United States was among five countries in the world that have the most executions. The others on the list, he said, are Iran, North Korea, China and Yemen.

The question, O’Malley said, is “Who do we as a people aspire to be?”

Among the supporters of death penalty repeal Tuesday were two men who were sentenced to death and were later set free.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who was convicted and sentenced to death in March 1985 for the rape and murder of a girl, was released from prison in 1993 after DNA evidence exonerated him. He spent two years on death row.

Shujaa Graham, who lives in Takoma Park, Md, was convicted of killing a prison guard in California in the mid-70s, but was freed after three and a half years on death row and four trials, according to a report.

Del. LeRoy Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, who is for the death penalty, said that new technology, such as DNA testing, removes a lot of doubt surrounding some convictions.

Myers said he believed that the governor’s push on death penalty repeal was for a different reason.

“I believe that now that Gov. O’Malley is obviously term limited, he is now laying the framework for another office,” Myers said.

That office, Myers said, is the office of the United States President.

Maryland death penalty information

Current Death Row population: 5

Women on Death Row: 0

Date Death Penalty reinstated: 07/01/1975

Is life without parole an option? Yes

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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