The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved by a 6-to-5 vote yesterday a bill that would prohibit juries from sentencing minors to death.
Introduced by state Sen. Decatur Trotter (D-Prince George's), the bill would bar juries from considering the death penalty if the convicted person was under 18 at the time the crime was committed.
Although Maryland has not executed anyone since 1961, and has not executed a minor since 1926, Trotter introduced the bill in an effort to bar the execution of James Trimble, a 17-year-old convicted murderer on death row in Maryland's State Penitentiary.
Trotter's bill would allow juries to impose life imprisonment on minors convicted of first degree murder, which is a death involving premeditation, torture, or a felony offense such as a rape.
Trotter, a longtime foe of the death penalty, was joined by representatives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington in arguing before the committee that the death penalty is morally wrong, unfairly applied and unsuccessful as a deterrent to crime. In any case, he said, it should not be applied to minors.
Six members of the committee supported the bill, among them Sen. Margaret Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery), who said, "I'm against capital punishment anyway. The very idea that you would send a 17-year-old boy or girl to be executed is obnoxious to me and, I think, to the people of Maryland."
Chances of the bill's passage are considered slim, however, because the legislature reinstituted the death penalty in 1978, and Del. Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would consider it, supports capital punishment.