Group launches petition drive to overturn death penalty repeal in Maryland

A new battle began Friday over the future of Maryland’s death penalty, just a day after Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed a bill abolishing capital punishment.

MDPetitions.com announced that it would lead an effort to gather enough signatures to force a public vote next year on the new law.

Supporters of the repeal law promptly vowed that they would work to keep it on the books.

“Make no mistake,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP. “If this goes to referendum, the NAACP and countless allies throughout Maryland will be there to fight.”

The Catholic Church in Maryland, meanwhile, urged citizens not to sign the petition.

If MDPetitions.com gathers 55,736 valid signatures by June 30, the repeal law will be put on hold pending a statewide vote in November 2014. One-third of those signatures must be turned in by the end of May.

Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington), chairman of MDPetitions.com, and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger (D) announced the petition drive Friday morning at a news conference in Baltimore that also featured Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County).

During this year’s legislative session, Shellenberger was a leading critic of the repeal bill, which O’Malley championed. Brochin voted against it.

The news conference was staged at the finish line of an annual marathon in Baltimore and a participant held up a sign reading: “What if?”

In the wake of the Boston bombings, Parrott said citizens should ask themselves how they would respond to a similar incident in Maryland.

“We need to be able to have an appropriate response,” Parrott said. “That’s kind of the driving motivation.”

He acknowledged the challenge ahead in coming weeks, saying this was the closest to the deadline his group had ever begun a petition drive.

MDPetitions.com was a key player in forcing public votes last fall on three measures: same-sex marriage, congressional redistricting and a measure extending in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

Despite the petition drives, voters upheld all three laws.

“Like each of the referendums that attempted to shut down civil rights at the ballot box, this too will fail,” Jealous said.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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