“This is the year that we will end the death penalty in Maryland,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, chief executive officer of the NAACP, who argued that capital punishment was “broken from birth.”
Chances for passage have increased significantly this year with a pledge from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) to allow debate on the floor of the chamber if there are insufficient votes in a key committee to advance the bill.
For the last several years, repeal bills have remained bottled up in the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The room where the panel meets was the symbolic location chosen for Tuesday’s rally.
Miller told reporters earlier in the day that he personally supports continued use of the death penalty, saying “there has to be an ultimate penalty for someone who commits mass murder.”
But Miller renewed a prediction that an O’Malley-sponsored bill would pass in his chamber. “It’s going to be close, though,” he said.
The Post has identified 23 likely Senate votes for a repeal bill, one short of passage. But in recent days, an additional five members have said they would consider supporting O’Malley-backed legislation.
Those include Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who on Tuesday called himself “decidedly undecided.” In the past, Zirkin has voiced support for a 2009 bill that tightened evidentiary standards in capital cases rather than repeal the death penalty altogether.
In his remarks, O’Malley argued that the death penalty consumes resources that could be better utilized on other crime-fighting strategies that have a track record of working.
But he also advanced a “moral” argument, saying that a majority of executions worldwide take place in five countries: Iran, North Korea, China, Yemen and the United States.
“In whose company do we choose to walk forward?” O’Malley asked.
He also quoted from slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who said “hate cannot drive out hate.”
Speakers at the rally also included legislators who have sponsored unsuccessful repeal bills, as well as Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
Baker said he saw an urgency to the repeal effort, so that he could tell his wife of its success. His wife, Christa Beverly is a civil-rights lawyer for whom abolishing the death penalty has been “her life’s work,” Baker said. She is suffering from early onset dementia.
“I thank you for your efforts,” Baker said.