Moral Low Ground


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley Commutes State’s Death Sentences

(Photo: Gregory Hauenstein)

(Photo: Gregory Hauenstein)

In one of his last acts in office, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has commuted the sentences of the state’s final four death row inmates from execution to life imprisonment without parole.

O’Malley’s Wednesday announcement came nearly two years after Maryland lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty at the governor’s urging. He had successfully argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, is racially biased and costs three times as much as life imprisonment.

On Wednesday, O’Malley cited state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who has argued that the state lacks the legal authority to execute its four remaining condemned killers.

After speaking with family members of those murdered by the four men, O’Malley issued a statement explaining his decision. It read, in part:

In a representative government, state executions make every citizen a party to a legalized killing as punishment…

The question at hand is whether any public good is served by allowing these essentially un-executable sentences to stand. In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.

Gubernatorial inaction… would, in my judgment, needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns, and without any hope of finality or closure.

[The] truth is this — few of us would ever wish for our children or grandchildren to kill another human being or to take part in the killing of another human being. The legislature has expressed this truth by abolishing the death penalty in Maryland.

For these reasons, I intend to commute Maryland’s four remaining death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.

Some victims’ relatives strongly opposed O’Malley’s move. Mary Francis Moore of Boonsboro was one of the people who spoke to the governor prior to his decision. Moore’s father and stepmother were murdered by death row inmate Heath Burch in 1995.

“They died a horrible death, I told him,” Moore told the Washington Post. “I said, ‘Governor, if I was you, I’d leave this alone and let the courts decide.’”

Death penalty abolitionists hailed O’Malley’s announcement.

“Governor O’Malley’s decision to commute these sentences should be applauded,” Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement gives further hope that support for the discriminatory and fatally flawed death penalty is waning,” the statement continued. “It is time for the United States to abandon this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice. The US cannot be seen as a country that truly values human rights as long as it continues to execute its citizens.”

The Washington Post recently reported that O’Malley is considering a run for president in 2016.

His replacement as governor, Republican Larry Hogan, said during his campaign that it is unlikely he would ask the legislature to reinstate the death penalty.

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