Maryland

Maryland

EDITORIALS: Maryland Governor Should Commute Remaining Death Sentences

In a recent editorial, the Washington Post urged Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to commute the sentences of the four men remaining on the state's death row, saying, "To carry out executions post-repeal would be both cruel, because the legislation underpinning the sentence has been scrapped, and unusual, because doing so would be historically unprecedented." Maryland is one of three states that have repealed the death penalty prospectively but still have inmates on death row. The others are Connecticut and New Mexico. O'Malley, who is leaving office in January, was a supporter of repeal. Maryland Attorney Douglas Gansler, who opposed repeal, recently said that carrying out an execution in Maryland is, "illegal and factually impossible." The editorial concluded, "In signing the abolition of capital punishment into law last year, [O'Malley] was unequivocal: 'It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.' Having made the moral case for abolition so eloquently, he should have no trouble making the practical case for commutation to life without parole for the four remaining condemned men. And he should act without further delay." Read the editorial below.

Maryland Attorney General Asks Court to Vacate Death Sentences

On November 6, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (pictured) filed a brief with an appellate court, formally requesting that the death sentence of Jody Lee Miles be vacated. Gansler argued that Miles's death sentence is no longer valid. Miles was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998. In 2006, Maryland's Court of Appeals suspended executions because the state's lethal injection procedures had not been lawfully implemented. In 2013, the state repealed the death penalty for future offenses. Upon repeal, Miles filed a motion to have his sentence changed to life in prison without parole, arguing that the repeal should apply to him, too. However, the appellate court rejected the argument, stating that the repeal only applied to future convictions. Gansler's motion contended that the absence of an execution protocol rendered an execution in Maryland a "legal and factual impossibility." He requested that Miles's death sentence be changed to life in prison without parole, and he noted that a decision on this motion would leave the door "wide open" for challenges from the other three defendants on Maryland's death row.

DPIC Releases 2013 Report, Showing Marked Decline in Death Penalty Use

On December 19, the Death Penalty Information Center released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment, "The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report." In 2013, executions declined, fewer states imposed death sentences, and the size of death row decreased compared to the previous year. The number of states with the death penalty also dropped, and public support for capital punishment registered a 40-year low. There were 39 executions in the U.S., marking only the second time in 19 years that there were less than 40. Just two states, Texas (16) and Florida (7), were responsible for 59% of the executions. The number of death sentences (80) remained near record lows, and several major death penalty states, inclucing Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana, imposed no death sentences this year. Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment. “Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice.”

RECENT LEGISLATION: Maryland Death Penalty Will Not Face Referendum

Maryland’s death penalty repeal legislation will take effect as scheduled on October 1, 2013 after its opponents were unsuccessful in securing the number of signatures required to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot. Efforts to put Maryland’s death penalty to a statewide vote were led by Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger and a group called MDPetitions.com. On May 31, the group announced that it only collected about 15,000 signatures, falling short of the 18,579 signatures required in order to proceed. If the group had met the initial deadline, they would have had until June 30th to collect more than 37,000 signatures from registered voters in order to place the referendum on the November 2014 ballot. "To be reaffirmed by the public, and know that justice is served, is wonderful," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), who supported the repeal bill, "This is the most profound thing I will ever do." On May 2, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abandon capital punishment when Governor Martin O'Malley signed the repeal bill into law.

Former Death Row Inmates Are Ambassadors of Change

A recent article in The Nation by David Love, the Director of Witness to Innocence, underscored the important role of people like Kirk Bloodsworth and Shujaa Graham (pictured), who were once on death row and now have been freed. These and many of the 140 other people who have been exonerated from death row have traveled the country, speaking to legislators, students, church groups, and the general public about the risks of executions. Bloodsworth's efforts in Maryland have received wide attention. Shujaa Graham, also a Maryland resident, was exonerated from death row in California after the state Supreme Court overturned his death sentence because the prosecutor had excluded African Americans from his jury. He was later acquitted in a re-trial. Both Bloodsworth and Graham recently attended the signing of the death-penalty repeal bill in Maryland.

Maryland's Legislature Repeals the Death Penalty

On March 15, the Maryland House of Delegates passed (82-56) a bill to abolish the death penalty for future crimes. The same bill passed the Maryland Senate on March 6. Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill, which will make Maryland the 18th state to abolish the death penalty, and the sixth to do so in the last six years. O'Malley said, “I’ve felt compelled to do everything I could to change our law, repeal the death penalty, so that we could focus on doing the things that actually work to reduce violent crime.” Maryland currently has five people on death row, but they will not be affected by the legislation.  Prior to 2007, no legislature had abolished the death penalty since the 1960s. The other 5 states to recently abolish the death penalty are New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut.

RECENT LEGISLATION: Maryland Senate Votes to Repeal Death Penalty

On March 6, the Maryland Senate passed SB 276 by a vote of 27-20. The bill replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole for future offenses. The bill appears likely to pass the House of Delegates, and Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign it. The bill would not affect the inmates currently on death row. If passed by the House and signed into law, Maryland would become the sixth state in six years, and the 18th overall to abandon capital punishment. Maryland has five people on death row and has carried out five executions since reinstating the death penalty in 1978. There have been no executions since 2005. Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and New Jersey are the other states that have ended the imposition of death sentences since 2007.

Maryland Takes Crucial Step Towards Death Penalty Repeal

On February 21, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee of Maryland approved (6-5) a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In prior years, the effort to end capital punishment was often blocked in this committee. Senator Robert Zerkin was one legislator who changed his mind this year, "As heinous and awful as these individuals [on death row] are, I think it's time for our state not to be involved in the apparatus of executions," he said. The bill outlaws future death sentences and recommends that current death sentences be commuted by the governor to life without parole. There appear to be sufficient votes for repeal in the Senate and the House, and Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill. A final vote in the Senate is expected by Feb. 26. The bill garnered support from a coalition of murder victims’ families, communities of color, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, civil rights leaders, and other prominent individuals, including Kirk Bloodsworth--who was freed from the state’s death row--Vicki Schieber--a Maryland resident whose daughter was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998--Catholic Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP. The governor has pledged to use some of the money saved from not having the death penalty to support victims' services. If Maryland repeals the death penalty, it will become the sixth state to do so in the past six years. Other states considering repeal of the death penalty, include Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, and Delaware.

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