The action unfolded amid unusually heavy security around the quaint, red-bricked state government campus. Barricades blocked surrounding streets in anticipation of a lengthy and spirited hearing at which Republican members of the House sharply questioned O’Malley about his gun-control bill that passed the Senate on Thursday.
More than 1,300 members of the public signed up to testify.
In the Senate, members started an emotional debate on whether to abolish capital punishment that is expected to conclude next week.
In a vote that suggested the bill is likely to pass, repeal supporters turned back an amendment that would have allowed executions to continue in some cases, including murders that also involved rapes.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn (R-Dorchester) recounted in graphic detail the case of Sarah Foxwell, an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2009.
“Just think about what happened to this poor, innocent girl,” Colburn, the amendment sponsor, told his colleagues.
His proposal failed on a vote of 19 to 27 shortly before the Senate broke for the day.
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who is shepherding O’Malley’s bill through the chamber, said he considered the vote an “excellent harbinger” of where senators are on the underlying legislation. The bill requires 24 votes to pass.
During Friday’s floor debate, Raskin acknowledged that there are cases such as Foxwell’s where vengeance is an understandable emotion. But he argued that “death is different” and the state cannot correct a mistake after executing someone.
“With the death penalty, there is no going back,” he said.
Kirk Bloodsworth, a former death row inmate who was later exonerated by DNA evidence, watched Friday’s debate from the Senate gallery.
O’Malley’s repeal bill would replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole. If it clears the Senate, the bill heads to the House, where prospects are considered strong.
A day after O’Malley’s gun-control bill passed the Senate largely intact, the effort began in the House.
The crowd at the rally — where signs included “How many Children will to die to save the NRA?” and “Save lives now” — was treated to a lofty speech by O’Malley, who also sang and prayed with the group.
“The children that were lost in Newtown are our children. The children that were lost on the streets of Baltimore are our children,” O’Malley said to applause. “We must overcome this sickness in our souls that is violence and gun violence in America.”