Death penalty repeal bill heads to House floor in Maryland

The execution table inside the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore as seen in 2004. (Steve Ruark — Associated Press)

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to repeal the death penalty cleared another hurdle Friday, as the House Judiciary Committee voted 14 to 8 to send the measure to the full chamber for consideration next week.

The action came just two days after the Senate passed the legislation, which would make Maryland the sixth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment.

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Supporters are confident they have the votes to pass the bill on the House floor and send it to O’Malley (D) for his signature. The legislation would replace death sentences with life without the possibility of parole.

“Life without parole is certainly not a walk in the park,” Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) told his colleagues during the committee voting session. Simmons, like many repeal supporters, said he feared the possibility that Maryland could one day execute an innocent person.

Before the vote, supporters of O’Malley’s bill turned back 10 amendments that sought to carve out exceptions to a repeal. Those included people who hire contract killers, people who kill children they have abducted, and people who kill police officers.

Del. Susan K. McComas (R-Harford said) argued that if criminals do not have the death penalty to fear, they will be more inclined to shoot law-enforcement personnel.

“Quite honestly, I think we’re putting a target on our police officers,” she told her colleagues.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) argued against all attempts to create exceptions in the bill, saying: “All of the flaws inherent in the death penalty will not go away. ... We cannot have a partial repeal of the death penalty.”

Maryland last executed a prisoner in 2005, under the watch of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

O’Malley’s bill would not affect the five inmates currently on death row. The governor, however, currently has the power to commute those sentences if he chooses.

O’Malley has sought unsuccessfully to lobby the legislature to repeal the death penalty since taking office in 2007.

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