A brief, truncated filibuster and a week's worth of debate on capital punishment ended last night as the state Senate passed and sent to the House of Delegates legislation that would restore the death penalty in Maryland.
In the last minutes before the 26-to-18 vote became final, the debate on the issue - the same issue that has been debated here four times in the past five years - seemed to lose a little of its perfunctory quality.
"There is no great sense of accomplishment on my part of getting this passed," said state Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County), who for the last several years has been one of the leading spokesmen for the restoration of capital punishment.
"We have the utmost respect for life," he added. "Where we (the proponents of the bill) part company with you who oppose it is that . . . we believe that the ultimate crime deserves the ultimate penalty. I believe it will act as a deterrent."
Earlier in the debate, State Sen. Clarence W. Blount (D-Baltimore), who, like other senators who opposed the bill, had long since been resigned to defeat, said, "If I thought I could talk and convince and change minds here I'd talk till hell freezes over . . ."
Despite the apparent futility of any argument, Blount added, "We in this state - the governor, the judges the legislators, the people - are not that fair in administering the law. If I thought the law would be fairly carried out, I would be on a different stance."
Black senators like Blount have led the opposition to capital punishment over the past several years, contending that the penalty has historically been applied disproportionately to poor and black defendants.
The death penalty legislation that passed the Senate yesterday and which originally was proposed by Acting Gov. Blair Lee - is expected to win approval easily in the House of Delegates.
That chamber continued its consideration of an identical capital punishment bill yesterday, rejecting six amendments that opponents of the measure tried to tack onto it.
The legislation approved by the Senate yesterday provides for a two-tiered trial in capital cases: one trial to deal with the question of guilt or innocence and the second trial to determine whether or not the defendant should be sent to the gas chamber.
The death penalty could be imposed under 10 specific circumstances, according to the legislation, including contract murder, murder of a police officer or prison guard, murder of a kidnap victim and mass murder.
The legislation also mandates that the jury deciding what penalty to inflict must take into account the defendant's age, mental condition and past criminal activity, as well as the circumstances of the crime.
Here is how members of the Maryland Senate from the Washington area voted on the death penalty bill:
PRINCE GE [WORD ILLEGIBLE] no; Bozick, aye: Broadwater no: Conroy, aye; Dorman, aye; [WORD ILLEGIBLE] aye; Miller, aye; O'Reily, no.
MONTGOMERY: Crawford. no; Denis, aye; Gilchrist, no; Levitan, aye; Schweinhaut, not voting; Wiser, no.
HOWARD: Clark, aye.
CHARLES: Simpson, aye.