Moral Low Ground

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‘The Moral High Ground’: Maryland Repeals Death Penalty

Maryland became the 18th US state to abolish capital punishment on Thursday as Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed a bill ending the death penalty in the state.

Maryland will replace capital punishment with life sentences without the possibility of parole. The repeal does not apply to the five men currently imprisoned on death row. The Baltimore Sun reports that none of the five is in imminent danger of execution since the state has had a de facto moratorium since 2006.

“With the legislation signed today, Maryland has effectively eliminated a policy that is proven not to work,” O’Malley’s office said in a statement.

“We have a responsibility to stop doing those things that are wasteful and ineffective,” the governor said before signing the repeal measure.

O’Malley’s office asserted that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to crime, is racially biased, and is far costlier than life imprisonment without parole. The governor’s office also expressed concern that innocent people could be executed.

Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, Maryland has condemned 58 individuals to die. Five of the sentences were carried out, the last one in 2005.

Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hailed Maryland’s historic move.

“This is the day we join the rest of Western civilization by abolishing the death penalty,” Jealous said, adding that the abolitionist movement is gaining momentum in Delaware, Colorado, New Hampshire and other states.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man falsely convicted of murdering a 9-year-old and later exonerated thanks to DNA testing, also welcomed abolition.

“Twenty-eight years ago I was sitting in a death row cell, and it became clear to me we could execute an innocent man,” Bloodsworth is quoted in the Sun. “No innocent person will ever be executed in this state ever again.”

But death penalty advocates argued that certain heinous crimes, like last month’s terror bombing of the Boston Marathon, warrant the ultimate punishment.

“The main reason is just simple justice,” Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told Reuters. “There are some crimes where a lesser penalty is insufficient.”

Five other states– Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey– have abolished capital punishment since 2007. Overall executions have been declining from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 43 last year, Reuters reports, citing statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas, which executed 15 people last year, is the nation’s leading practitioner of capital punishment.

 

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