Bid Fails To Repeal Death Penalty

By John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 16, 2007

A bid by lawmakers to repeal Maryland's death penalty collapsed yesterday by a single vote, presenting Gov. Martin O'Malley with an early political defeat but leaving questions about the future of capital punishment in the state in his hands.

Capping weeks of emotional appeals and soul-searching by lawmakers, a state Senate committee deadlocked 5 to 5 on legislation to end executions, preventing it from moving to the chamber's floor. O'Malley (D) strongly supported the bill, which was the subject of intense lobbying by the Catholic Church and other clergy.

The committee's tie vote followed two failed attempts at compromise, one that called for a year-long study of the death penalty and another that sought to limit eligibility for capital punishment to people who kill while in prison.

Maryland has had an effective moratorium on capital punishment since December, when a court ruled that the death penalty could not be carried out until new regulations on lethal injection are submitted by the administration.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese would not say yesterday when -- or if -- the administration will issue the regulations. The governor could effectively continue the moratorium by doing nothing as long as he is in office.

"We had hoped the legislature would repeal the death penalty," Abbruzzese said. "The governor will take the next few weeks to consider his options going forward."

Several death penalty opponents said they will urge O'Malley to establish a study commission by executive order, an option aides said would be considered. Other lawmakers floated the idea of putting the issue to voters in a referendum.

Supporters and opponents alike predicted that legislative wrangling over the issue would continue. Kirk Bloodsworth, a former death row inmate who has spent the last month lobbying legislators to approve the bill, said he was disappointed by yesterday's deadlock but committed to continuing to fight for a full repeal.

"As long as I'm breathing and living, I'm coming back," said Bloodsworth, who served eight years in prison, two of them on death row, for rape and murder charges that were later dismissed based on DNA evidence.

Five people have been put to death in Maryland since executions resumed in 1978, and there are six on death row.

O'Malley testified to a pair of legislative committees last month that he believes the death penalty is "inherently unjust" because of the risk of executing innocent people, and he argued that it is not an effective deterrent to murder.

Legislation to replace the death penalty with life without parole is still pending in a House committee, but the bill's sponsor said yesterday he does not plan to press for a vote before lawmakers adjourn April 9, given the outcome in the Senate.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company