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January 15 2009 | UNITED STATES

USA

Faith leaders urge Maryland to repeal death penalty

 
printable version

AP

Faith leaders urge Md. to repeal death penalty

BY KATHLEEN MILLER

TOWSON, Md. -- Leaders of many faiths urged Maryland lawmakers Tuesday to repeal the death penalty in the upcoming state legislative session, saying they share a common belief in the sanctity of life.

A Catholic bishop, a rabbi, an imam and several Protestant ministers were among those who signed a letter to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley stating "it has been proven that the death penalty is not applied justly, is cruel in its application, and is not an effective deterrent."

"As people of God, it is clear to us that the practice of applying death as a penalty in our society is both immoral and unjust," the letter from the newly formed Interfaith Coalition to End the Death Penalty said.

Several of the religious leaders said they hoped the diversity of the group would grab the attention of lawmakers.

"I have never seen this group come together to advocate for anything before," said the Rev. Dr. Peter K. Nord, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore. "I hope that unanimity will be heard."

The religious leaders have a friend in the governor: O'Malley, a death penalty opponent, hopes capital punishment will be abolished this year. The governor notes progress in reducing homicides last year took place without anyone being executed.

"The death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent," O'Malley told reporters Tuesday. "It is costly and takes dollars away from public safety efforts that actually can save lives."

A state commission recently recommended ending capital punishment in Maryland. The group cited racial and geographic disparities in the use of the death penalty, and noted the cost of the legal proceedings.

No one has received a death sentence in Maryland for killing an African-American, although roughly 43 percent of cases where perpetrators are eligible for the death penalty involve black victims, research mentioned in the report said.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a member of the panel that wrote the report, says he will back efforts to ban capital punishment in Maryland in the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday. Raskin, D-Montgomery, sits on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, whose members have previously voted against repealing the death penalty, keeping the issue off the floor of the Senate.

"The real problem is supporting the death penalty is an erroneous but convenient shorthand for being tough on crime," Raskin said.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who is also on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, disagrees.

"We've had two killings of correctional officers recently by people serving life sentences," Jacobs, R-Howard, said. "What more can you do to them without the death penalty?"

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel County, has previously supported the death penalty but said he is open-minded.

"I'm trying to determine if there is enough problem in the process that warrants a complete repeal or whether we can actually improve the process," Simonaire said.

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