Moral Low Ground


Maryland Lawmakers Vote to Repeal Death Penalty

Both houses of the Maryland General Assembly have now voted to abolish the death penalty, setting the stage for the state’s Democrat governor to sign the repeal into law.

After hours of debate and several rejected floor amendments, the House of Delegates passed SB 276, the Death Penalty Repeal bill, by a vote of 82-56. The measure replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Two Republicans joined 80 Democrats who voted in favor of repeal; 38 Republicans and 18 Democrats voted against the measure. The state Senate had already voted 27-20 to repeal the death penalty. The bill now heads to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk for his signature, which is all but guaranteed since he has been a longtime abolitionist.

“The death penalty is expensive, and the overwhelming evidence tells us that it does not work,” O’Malley, a Democrat, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. “In 2011, the average murder rate in states where death is a penalty was 4.9 for every 100,000 people. In states without it, the murder rate was lower, at 4.1 per the top 100,000 people.”

O’Malley also told lawmakers that capital punishment is racially biased.

“Given the fact that almost everybody who has been executed in the state of Maryland is an African American, it seems that the death penalty is probably not fair,” Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who supports repeal, said last month.

“We’re a better state for ending [capital punishment],” Del. Sandy Rosenberg, another Baltimore Democrat, is quoted in the Baltimore Sun.

But many lawmakers disagreed, including some Democrats.

“The death penalty is not a deterrent. It is justice,” Del. C.T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat and a former prosecutor, is quoted in the Sun. “I’ve seen the worst of the worst. It is necessary.”

“I think it’s a dreadful mistake. I fully believe we need to keep it on the books as a deterrent,” Howard County Republican Del. Gail Bates told Reuters after Friday’s vote.

Abolition advocates hailed the legislature’s action.

“I applaud the Maryland General Assembly for choosing to meet evil not with evil, but with a justice worthy of our best nature as human beings,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a statement.

Kirk Bloodsworth, the first condemned person ever exonerated in the United States by DNA evidence, was in the House gallery and pumped his arms in jubilation when the vote results were announced.

“You can’t punish the guilty by walking over an innocent– ever,” Bloodsworth told the Associated Press.

Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, 58 people have received capital sentences in Maryland. Of these, five have been executed by lethal injection. The last execution occurred in 2005. There are currently five men on Maryland’s death row, and their death sentences will be commuted to life in prison without parole once O’Malley signs the bill into law, as he is expected to do soon.

The Baltimore Sun reports, however, that death penalty supporters could petition the issue onto the 2014 ballot, leaving the question up to the state’s voters. Such an action would postpone repeal until after the election.

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