By Ovetta Wiggins and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said yesterday that he plans to work for the repeal of Maryland's death penalty this legislative session. But he and some lawmakers predict that the measure has tough hurdles to clear before it gets to his desk.
"I've had a pretty consistent position on this," O'Malley told reporters at the State House. "Now that it's salient, I'm certainly not going to try to duck or hide. I would like to see us repeal the death penalty."
O'Malley's comments came in response to an announcement by two lawmakers that they would introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty and replace it with a sanction of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bills were filed yesterday.
Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore), the lead sponsor in the Senate, said that by her count, the measure was one vote shy of getting out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
"I don't think it's totally out of the question that we could pass a repeal bill this year," said Gladden, a public defender, who has introduced similar measures in the past. "I think other legislators don't want blood on their hands."
Gladden was emboldened yesterday by the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and supporters who joined her and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) at a news conference about the legislation.
The issue has gained prominence in the wake of a court ruling last month that halted executions in Maryland until new regulations on lethal injection are put forward by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. O'Malley said that the process will not start before the conclusion of the legislature's debate on the death penalty bill.
"That debate needs to happen," O'Malley told reporters.
Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he supports the death penalty but thinks there needs to be a "healthy debate" on the subject. He said he would not influence a vote one way or the other.
"I realize the trend is against the death penalty," Miller said, "but I think there are some crimes so atrocious that it's warranted."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he doesn't "have a real strong feeling one way or the other. We'll let the legislative process take place. . . . We've never tried to influence our colleagues on two issues: the death penalty and abortion."
The bill is likely to meet resistance, with some Democrats joining minority Republicans in opposition.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George's) said he could not support a repeal because he had a gun held to his head three years ago.
Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), the House minority leader, said he would not support a repeal and said he is certain that many share his position, across party lines. "We need the death penalty for the most heinous cases," he said.
Gladden and Rosenberg said they expected support from O'Malley, who has consistently said he opposes the death penalty. But O'Malley also has said that his views would not prevent him from following the law and signing death warrants.
O'Malley rarely mentioned the death penalty in his primary campaign against then-Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) or in the general election race against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
O'Malley has argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent and that money spent on prosecuting death penalty cases could be better spent fighting violent crime.
Rosenberg said that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole would be an "enormous deterrent" to committing murder.
"The time and effort litigating these cases, that goes into legislating this issue, could be spent on preventative measures that make each and every citizen more safe in their home," Rosenberg said.
The death penalty repeal was not part of the 13-bill legislative agenda that O'Malley issued this week.
"There are good people who have strong feelings on both sides of the issue," he said.