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February 19 2009 | UNITED STATES

USA/Maryland

Governor O'Malley asks faith leaders to help end death penalty

 
printable version

AP

O'Malley asks faith leaders to help end death penalty

By BRIAN WITTE

ANNAPOLIS, Md- Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday his effort to get the votes to repeal capital punishment in Maryland "is not done," and he asked the religious community to help by petitioning lawmakers facing a difficult decision.

"I need your help, I really and truly do on this death penalty legislation," O'Malley told about 300 people attending the African Methodist Episcopal Church Legislative Day. "It is not done."

The governor also urged repeal supporters not to take any votes for granted on the issue.

"I need your help writing letters. I need your help persuading. I need your help even talking to delegates and senators that you may think are probably already with us," O'Malley said. "You never really know."

O'Malley is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday, where his bill to replace capital punishment with life in prison without possibility of parole is scheduled to have a hearing. A similar bill failed on a 5-5 vote in 2007 on a committee where the swing vote still appears to be elusive.

Last year, when the committee again appeared to be short of the votes to move the bill to the full Senate, lawmakers decided to create a commission to study capital punishment. O'Malley is hopeful the commission's recommendation to repeal the death penalty will help move the proposal forward.

"We have a real shot this year," O'Malley said.

The governor pointed out that Maryland just had the second biggest reduction in homicides since 1985 _ and that capital punishment had nothing to do with the drop in murders, because the state currently has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. The governor attributes the decline in murders to better cooperation between law enforcement agencies and early intervention in the lives of young people who are at risk to themselves and others.

"These are the things that save lives and they cost money, and the death penalty diverts money from the very things that we know save lives," O'Malley said.

In December, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recommended on a 13-9 vote to repeal the state's death penalty law, citing racial and jurisdictional disparities in how it is used.

The report also cited a study by the Urban Institute that found it cost $1.1 million to prosecute a case in which the death penalty is possible but not sought, while it cost $1.8 million to pursue a case that unsuccessfully sought capital punishment. A case that resulted in a death penalty typically cost $3 million, according to the study.

A minority report signed by eight of the commission's 23 members argued that the law should be kept on the books, because Maryland rarely and carefully uses capital punishment.

If O'Malley's bill were to clear the Senate committee, it's unclear what would happen in the full Senate, which is presided over by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports capital punishment.

Executions are on hold in Maryland because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state's highest court. The Court of Appeals found that the state's lethal injection protocols weren't properly approved by a legislative committee. Executions can't resume until a new protocol is created for the committee to approve.

Maryland has five men on death row. Five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland.

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