Benjamin Jealous, president of the national NAACP, is scheduled to appear in Annapolis Tuesday morning to support a renewed push to abolish Maryland’s death penalty.
With the General Assembly set to reconvene Wednesday for its annual 90-day session, Jealous and other civil rights leaders have called a news conference to highlight racial disparities and “systemic flaws” with capital punishment, according to an advisory issued by two groups sponsoring the event.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is also expected to join death penalty opponents.
The death penalty has been a source of great debate in Annapolis in recent years, even though Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on executions since late 2006.
In 2009, lawmakers balked at a bill sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that sought to abolish the death penalty. Instead, the legislature passed a compromise measure that tightened evidentiary standards in capital cases.
It's unclear whether there will be enough votes in a key Senate committee this year to shelve the 2009 compromise in favor of a full repeal. But that has hardly deterred the efforts of anti-death penalty activists, who are also planning to lobby lawmakers en masse on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Day.
At the urging of anti-death penalty lawmakers, O’Malley has also considered in recent weeks using the state budget to restrict funding for capital punishment.
Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on executions since shortly before O’Malley took office in 2007, and it is unclear how much longer it might continue.
In late 2006, Maryland’s highest court ruled that the state’s procedures for lethal injections had not been properly adopted and halted scheduled executions. Efforts since then by the O’Malley administration to craft new rules have been delayed several times.
The most recent setback came after the manufacturer of one the three drugs used in Maryland’s lethal injection procedures announced it was halting production of the drug.
A spokesman for the state corrections department said recently that officials there are continuing to work on an alternative. Any new regulations will be subject to a review by a legislative panel, which is co-chaired by two lawmakers opposed to capital punishment.