Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If We Are Serious

This letter to the editor was published in today's Gazette.Net, a Maryland online news site:

Repeal the Death Penalty
What a relief to hear that Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger has settled his most recent death penalty prosecution with a sentence of life without parole, thereby securing a speedy resolution for the victim's family.

The sad reality is that the death penalty handcuffs the surviving families of homicide victims to decades of legal procedures. In the end, the vast majority are resentenced to life without parole, which could have been sought at trial.

The new death penalty law that went into effect recently will likely narrow the risk of our state executing an innocent person. But the General Assembly, in passing the law, ignored another compelling finding of the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment: "the effects of capital cases are more detrimental to (murder victims') families than are life without the possibility of parole cases." As a member of the commission, Shellenberger agreed with this finding, although he voted to maintain the death penalty.

The new law makes Maryland's death penalty ever more complex, which means a longer process.

As a mother who lost a son to murder, my heart goes out the family of [Correctional] Officer [David] McGuinn, whose alleged killers [are] still facing death for killing this correctional officer in 2006. It has been over three years and this case has yet to go to trial — precisely because it is a death penalty case.

If we are serious about helping victims' families, we should go ahead and repeal the death penalty, sparing them the agonizing wait for cases to come to an end. Eliminating the death penalty will also save the state money that could be reinvested to provide more meaningful care for the families of murder victims, something I know from personal experience is lacking now.

Vivian Penda, Silver Spring

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