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Death penalty repeal advances

most Washington Co. lawmakers disagree

March 06, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — A move to repeal the death penalty in Maryland took another step forward with the state Senate voting 27-20 on Wednesday to abolish capital punishment.

Every legislator in the Washington County delegation is against the repeal except Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, who voted for the measure.

“It’s one that I wrestled with very deeply. But after talking to a lot of people, reading some things from some prison officials, talking to religious leaders and others, knowing that most of the industrialized countries have eliminated it ... I just felt it was time to repeal it,” Young said after the vote Wednesday.

He said one prison official had told him that life without parole “was a slow death penalty.”

Young said a repeal was the right thing to do.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has pushed to repeal the death penalty since he became governor in 2007 but the measure stalled every time.

The legislation will now be debated by the House of Delegates.

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers who support the death penalty said that they expect citizens to petition the issue to the ballot in the 2014 elections.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, is one lawmaker who supports the death penalty.

“The big concern that I have is and I said this on the floor today ... this whole notion that somehow just replacing death with life without parole means that the victims will have closure. Nothing is further from the truth,” Shank said.

That’s because of the “virtually unlimited” amount of post-conviction appeals that a criminal can make, he said.

Shank said he was also concerned about how a possible repeal might impact sentencing trends in the state and affect public safety.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Allegany/Garrett/Washington, who voted against the repeal, said that the death penalty had a place for the most heinous of crimes.

“I think if you did a poll in the three counties I represent, you would find a considerable majority of people who say the same thing [support the death penalty],” Edwards said.

Maryland would become the 18th state to ban the death penalty if the measure passes. Connecticut banned it last year. Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York also have banned capital punishment in recent years.

Maryland has five men on death row, but the pending measure would permit the governor to commute their sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole.

In 2008, lawmakers created a commission to study capital punishment after repeal efforts failed. The panel recommended repeal later that year, citing racial and jurisdictional disparities in how the death penalty is used.

O’Malley followed through on the panel’s recommendation in 2009, but legislation for full repeal again stalled in the state Senate. At the time, senators agreed to a compromise measure to limit the death penalty to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said he too believed that the death penalty was a reasonable response to certain crimes.

“I hope we would never have to use it but I think it still needs to be a tool that the judiciary has an option for,” Serafini said.

“I am disappointed,” he said, referring to the passage of the bill in the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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