Md. again looking at death penalty

By John Wagner
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Maryland lawmakers, who during Gov. Martin O'Malley's first term repeatedly debated whether to abolish the death penalty, are wrestling with a far different proposition at the outset of his second: whether to start using it again.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he will push for action in coming weeks on regulations needed to resume executions in the state.

Use of the death penalty was halted by the state's highest court in December 2006, the month before O'Malley (D) took office, pending new regulations from the administration spelling out procedures for lethal injection and other issues.

O'Malley instead lobbied the legislature to repeal capital punishment, waiting until 2009 - after those efforts fell short for a third year in a row - to propose new regulations. A legislative review panel headed by two Democrats opposed to capital punishment has yet to take action on the proposal, which they say is flawed.

"To allow this to continue to sit in the drawer is to make a mockery of the democratic and legislative process," Miller, a capital punishment supporter, said in an interview last week. "We swear to uphold the law of the state, and the death penalty is the law."

O'Malley said he, too, thinks the legislative panel "should do something one way or another on this" and acknowledged it is possible that executions could resume during his second four-year term, which starts Wednesday.

The governor, however, said he thinks the death penalty will eventually be repealed and is still assessing whether it makes sense to take another run at doing that in the current 90-day legislative session.

"The line of history sometimes zigs and zags," O'Malley said in an interview. "I think the big picture is our country is moving away from the death penalty, and I think as time goes on, more and more states will realize that it's not an effective tool for reducing violent crime or homicides. It's not a deterrent, it's very, very expensive, and the dollars could be used for other things, and it's ultimately inconsistent with the sort of nation we aspire to be."

As governor, O'Malley also has clemency power that would allow him to commute the sentences of any of the five inmates on Maryland's death row to life in prison - something he said he would consider on a case-by-case basis if the regulations are adopted.

Unlike most high-profile matters that come before the legislature, the death penalty regulations are being considered by a single committee made up of 10 delegates and 10 senators.

Any action by the panel does not need approval of the House or Senate, and technically the panel's role is only advisory. If he wanted to, O'Malley could put the recommendations in place over the panel's objections.

To date, O'Malley has not done so, and in the interview, he gave no indication that he would.

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