Friday, November 14, 2008

Abolition Recommendation

We were excited to see "Panel recommends abolishing death penalty in Md." in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, about the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment's recent vote. MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber sits on this Commission. From the article:

A commission appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley to review state executions recommended tonight abolishing capital punishment in Maryland, prompting hope among death penalty opponents that the General Assembly could end the 30-year practice when it convenes in January.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment voted 13-7 to make the recommendation and also found that the death penalty carries the "real possibility" of executing innocents and may be biased against blacks.

The commission's final report provides additional ammunition to O'Malley and other death penalty opponents in their uphill fight to stop state executions. Previous repeal efforts have narrowly failed despite high-profile campaigns by O'Malley, a Catholic and ardent opponent of capital punishment.

An O'Malley spokesman said tonight that the Democratic governor looks forward to reading the final report, which is due next month.

Tonight's decision "now places a burden on those who would like to defend the system," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat and panel member who voted with the majority.

Death penalty proponents took comfort in what they characterized as a close vote, considering that some members of the commission were appointed by an ardent anti-death penalty governor. "Tonight was a night to really figure out where people actually stood," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, a panel member who plans to write the minority's opinion to be included in the final commission report. "The vote is a testament to how close this issue is in the state of Maryland."

Despite the panel's recommendation and O'Malley's view, the final decision rests with the General Assembly, where a key Senate panel has repeatedly voted down a death penalty repeal, preventing it from reaching the chamber's floor.

While executions in Maryland are infrequent, the issue is being debated here as state executions are being scrutinized nationwide because of high-profile exonerations of death-row inmates who were wrongly convicted.

The governor has lobbied for a death-penalty repeal in the General Assembly and vowed to sign such a bill if the legislature passes it.

Maryland has had an effective ban on use of its death chamber since December 2006, when the state's highest court ruled that execution protocols that detail the steps to put a condemned prisoner to death were improperly developed.

In May, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection procedures such as those used in Maryland were acceptable, O'Malley reluctantly took the first step toward ending Maryland's moratorium. He ordered the drafting of new lethal injection procedures, but also asked the commission to study the practice and investigate whether it was justified.

The 23-member commission voted down a proposed amendment to keep the death penalty for people who kill correctional officers or police officers. The panel voiced unanimous or strong support for seven of eight findings it was charged with exploring. Among these:

*Racial and geographic disparities exist in how the death penalty is applied

*Death penalty cases are more costly than non-death penalty cases and take a harder toll on the survivors of murder victims." ...

Read the rest of the article.

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