Thursday, 22 February 2007

O'Malley testifies for end to capital punishment

O'Malley testifies for end to capital punishment


By Brian White

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Martin O'Malley testified yesterday in favor of ending the state's death-penalty law, citing statistics he said appear to indicate capital punishment not only fails to deter crime, but makes society more violent.

"It would appear then that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but very possibly an accelerant to murder," Mr. O'Malley said.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat who took office last month, testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee in a rare showing of support by a Maryland governor for measures not proposed by the executive branch. While he didn't take questions from legislators, other supporters of the repeal faced some tough questioning by lawmakers who want to keep capital punishment on the books.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil Republican, said the death penalty is the only strong sanction left for inmates serving life in prison who kill while in prison. As an example, Mrs. Jacobs cited the case of David McGuinn, a correctional officer who was killed July 25 at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. One of the men accused of killing Officer McGuinn already was serving life in prison, she said.

"Basically, this was a freebie for him," Mrs. Jacobs said, referring to inmate Lee Stephens. "I mean, he's basically getting away with murder."

Prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty for Stephens and for Lamarr Harris, another inmate charged in the slaying.

In his testimony, Mr. O'Malley focused on statistics he thinks indicate the death penalty fails to deter crime. He said the murder rate in states that had the death penalty was 46 percent higher in 2005 than in states without it. He also said that while the murder rate has been on the decline since 1990, it has fallen by 56 percent in states without the death penalty, compared to a 38 percent drop in states that have capital punishment.

Mr. O'Malley also cited research by Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Dale Cathell in 2002, in which the judge found that processing and imprisoning a death-penalty defendant costs $400,000 more than confining a prisoner serving a life sentence. In a state where 56 persons have been sentenced to death since 1978, Maryland has spent about $22.4 million more than it would have cost to have them serve life imprisonment, Mr. O'Malley said.

Opponents of the death penalty, including several men who spent time on death row before they were proven innocent, spoke out in favor of the measures, which would replace a death sentence with life without possibility of parole.

Meanwhile; supporters of capital punishment prepared to push to and end a de facto moratorium on capital punishment in Maryland that resulted from a Court of Appeals ruling late last year. The state's highest court barred Maryland from executing anyone until lawmakers officially clarify the lethal-injection procedure.

Death penalty opponents are hoping questions with the procedure has opened a window for repeal.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who spent two years on death row and was later released from prison after his sentence had been reduced because of DNA evidence, said at a news conference it was time to end a law that could cause an innocent person to be put to death.

"We stand here united today -- a pact of people -- because the truth is this: If it can happen to an honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran with no criminal history, honorably discharged, it can happen to anybody in the state of Maryland, in the country," Mr. Bloodsworth said.

Capital punishment was not a major campaign issue for Mr. O'Malley, who first expressed his personal opposition to the death penalty years ago. Last month, he indicated he would sign legislation for a death-penalty repeal after lawmakers introduced the measure.

Maryland has executed five men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1975, and there are six men on death row.

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