O'Malley Urges Lawmakers to Repeal Death Penalty

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By Michael Frost
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Martin O'Malley urged lawmakers to repeal the death penalty Wednesday, calling a bill he sponsored "the only and best way forward."

"It is our time in Maryland for a deeper dialogue on the question of what kind of society we want to be," he said.

O'Malley spoke before the same Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that heard his arguments for a similar bill in 2007. That year, the bill stalled in the committee and never made it to the Senate floor.

O'Malley cited the findings of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which voted 13-9 in favor of repeal, as providing the basis for a different result this time around. He highlighted several findings of the commission, including racial bias, the risk of executing innocent people and the increased costs required to conduct capital cases.

He also dismissed the argument that the death penalty serves as a deterrent, referring to his seven years as mayor of Baltimore.

"In the entire time that the city of Baltimore slipped into becoming one of the most violent and drug-addicted cities in America, the death penalty was on the books and ... did absolutely nothing to prevent these awful crimes that plagued a proud and great American city," O'Malley said.

Several opponents of the bill, including former Gov. Marvin Mandel, cited deterrence as the most important reason to keep the death penalty on the books. Some argued that it was the only way to guarantee that a killer wouldn't kill again.

Percel Alston Jr., a retired police officer from Prince George's County who was representing the Maryland State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, felt that even if the death penalty only deterred one person, it was worth it.

"A deterrent of one is worth saving that one life," he said.

Jurisdictional differences were also cited during the testimony. Decisions to file capital cases lie in the hands of Maryland's 24 elected state's attorneys, who represent a broad range of opinions on capital punishment.

"There ought to be a reasonable uniformity throughout the state and that ought to be the least of the equal justice afforded to the citizens of the state," said former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, who chaired the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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