Washington County delegation weighs in on bill to repeal death penalty

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, is the only legislator from the delegation who supports it

February 14, 2013|BY KAUSTUV BASU |

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley testified Thursday at hearings in front of the House and Senate judicial committees in support of his bill to repeal the death penalty, but a majority of Washington County legislators still support the death penalty.

“Is the death penalty consistent with our values as people?” asked Gov. O’Malley at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing Thursday. “Capital punishment is expensive. It does not work.”

At the senate hearing, Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, who is a member of the Senate committee, asked O’Malley what the ultimate punishment would be for an inmate who would kill a correctional officer if the death penalty was not an option in the state.

“We have succeeded in doing a lot of things that work to make the work conditions for our correctional officers safer. Most important was the closing of the Maryland House of Corrections,” O’Malley said, referring to a prison known for its violence that he shut down in 2007.


“The penalty of life without parole I believe is every bit as effective as the death penalty without having all the costs and the wasted dollars that are associated with the death penalty,” O’Malley said replying to Shank’s question.

State residents on both sides of the issue crowded the committee hearing rooms and hallways Thursday as they waited their turn to speak.

Smithsburg Police Chief George L. Knight Jr., who was in Annapolis to express his opposition to the repeal, said the murder of a law enforcement officer is “so heinous that it deserves the ultimate sacrifice.”

“There has to be some kind of a deterrent to keep a career criminal or criminals from taking the life of a law enforcement officer while they are performing their duties,” Knight said. “I believe they need to give us the tools to do that [as a deterrent against criminals]. Taking away the death penalty option takes away that tool.”

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Benjamin Jealous, CEO and president of the NAACP, and the Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, were among those speaking Thursday in support of the repeal.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, is the only legislator from the Washington County delegation supporting the governor’s bill.

“I have had mixed feelings but I have been talking to prison wardens who tell me that life without parole is a slow death penalty. When I hear things like that, I can support the governor’s bill.”

Young’s vote might be crucial in getting the bill passed in the Senate. An effort to repeal the death penalty was squashed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in 2007 and several other efforts in the years since have failed.

In 2009, the state tightened laws related to the death penalty.

Capital punishment can only be considered in Maryland now if there is DNA evidence and other factors such as a videotaped confession.

Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney, who opposes the repeal said at Thursday’s hearing that the new rules passed in 2009 make it very difficult to execute an innocent person.

Maryland’s last execution was in 2005.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, said the death penalty still had a place in the state’s judicial system.

“It should be an option in the most heinous of cases. It should be an option for the judge and the jury,” he said.

Those present at Thursday’s hearing to support the governor’s bill included Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man sentenced to death in 1985 for the murder of a girl. He was released from prison in 1993 after being exonerated by a DNA test.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said the repeal issue is of special interest to Washington County because of the number of correctional facilities in the area.

“They take the life of a prison guard, what are we going to do?” Serafini said.

The delegate said that there are so few executions in the state that no one can accuse Maryland of going overboard.

“I value life … but this is a case [the death penalty] where it is a consequence to a decision that somebody has made,” Serafini said.

Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee where the governor also testified Thursday, said he found it ironic that the governor is trying for gun control, a measure he said would punish law abiding citizens, while trying to take away the highest penalty the state can have for criminals.

The Herald-Mail Articles