That’s largely because O’Malley’s administration has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume, nearly six years after Maryland’s highest court halted use of capital punishment on a technicality. And there’s little reason to believe the politically ambitious governor will do so in his remaining two years, as drug shortages and other factors have complicated the mechanics of lethal injection in other states.
“It’s legislating by inaction,” said Sen. Joseph M. Getty (R-Carroll), a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and an O’Malley critic. “I’m among the members of the General Assembly who would like to see the law followed.”
O’Malley declined to be interviewed for this story, and aides said a decision about whether he will sponsor a death penalty repeal bill will be made in coming weeks. Administration officials responsible for drafting the rules needed for executions to resume offered no timetable for when they might be issued.
“We’re still working on the regulations, still exploring best practices around the country,” said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “It’s a serious issue, and the department is being extra careful, and that’s obviously taking some time.”
Practices around the country have changed since 2005, when Maryland executed its last prisoner, under the watch of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) — and those changes could make a return to capital punishment in the Free State even more unlikely.
Most of the largest death-penalty states — Virginia being a notable exception — have moved recently from a three-drug cocktail to a single-drug regimen for executions by lethal injection: administering a larger, lethal dose of the sedative that had been used as the first step in the process.
The one-drug method can take longer to take the life of the prisoner, but it is easier to administer and carries less risk of excruciating pain if something goes wrong. It appears to be “the wave of the future,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Nine of the last 10 executions in the United States have used a single drug, according to the center.
For Maryland to move in that direction, it would take action by more than just O’Malley. Maryland law spells out that lethal injections must involve a combination of at least two drugs. Changing to just one would require both a new law and new regulations.
While it’s unclear if there are enough votes to repeal the law altogether, many lawmakers doubt there are enough votes, particularly in the House of Delegates, to adopt a new law that would restart executions.