The Maryland Senate, after a brief debate during which only three senators rose to speak, passed a bill tonight that would give juries in murder trials the option of sentencing defendants to life imprisonment without parole.
The life-without-parole bill, which the House of Delegates has promised to kill, was approved on a 37-to-1 vote. It was one of five so-called "Roper bills" passed by the Senate tonight. The measures are named for Stephanie Roper, the 22-year-old college senior who was raped, beaten, set afire and shot to death last April.
Her assailants received sentences that would make them eligible for parole in less than 12 years.
The other bills that passed would increase the minimum time a criminal sentenced to a life term must serve from 15 to 25 years; would add a previous conviction for murder as an aggravating circumstance; would eliminate voluntary intoxication as a mitigating circumstance and would give the victim's family the right to testify at a sentencing.
The House of Delegates has passed parts of three of those bills: The one increasing the minimum time to be served from 15 to 25 years--but only in cases where the death penalty had been sought; the one eliminating voluntary intoxication as a mandatory mitigating circumstance, leaving it as something that may be considered, and the one giving the jury the right to see a victim impact statement, but without testimony from the victim's family at sentencing.
The rest of the bills passed tonight were expected to die in the House Judiciary Committee where House versions of the bills have already been killed.