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Maryland Death Penalty

The Debate on Ending Capital Punishment

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STATE GOVERNMENT

Officials Split on Death Penalty Repeal

Before a standing room only crowd, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley concludes his presentation to repeal the state's death penalty before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.
Before a standing room only crowd, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley concludes his presentation to repeal the state's death penalty before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. (Glenn Fawcett - AP)

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009

A parade of government and law enforcement officials from Maryland's past and present diverged sharply yesterday over legislation sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley to abolish the state's death penalty.

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Appearing before a Senate committee, Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) spoke in favor of the bill, calling the death penalty a "cruel hoax" for murder victims' families, who rarely see the punishment carried out.

His counterpart from Baltimore County, State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger (D), urged senators to keep the death penalty as an option for prosecutors, saying it is used far more sparingly in Maryland than in other states.

"We're not like Texas," Shellenberger told the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "We're much more careful here."

Former governor Marvin Mandel (D) testified against the bill as well, saying there were times when the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime.

Making a rare appearance before a legislative committee, O'Malley (D) vigorously disputed that and sought to appeal to senators on a higher plane, saying state executions violate "the dignity of the individual."

"Our free and diverse republic was founded not on fear and retribution," O'Malley said.

Former Maryland attorney general J. Joseph Curran (D) also backed O'Malley's call for a repeal, a position at odds with that of Maryland's current attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler (D), who did not appear in person yesterday but whose written testimony was cited by several pro-death penalty senators.

The packed hearing, at which more than 50 people signed up to testify, was testament to the controversy surrounding the governor's bill, which would replace capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If O'Malley is successful, Maryland would join 14 other states that do not have a death penalty. In late 2007, New Jersey became the first state in a generation to abolish capital punishment; others are considering it.

Similar legislation in Maryland has been killed in each of the past two years by the same Senate committee, but O'Malley has chosen to make the issue a priority in this 90-day session.

If no committee votes change in coming weeks, supporters may try to persuade the 11-member panel to send the bill to the Senate floor without making a recommendation on its merits.


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