Death penalty abolitionists, speaking at an emotional hearing yesterday, described Maryland's capital punishment law as immoral, ineffective, costly and unequally administered.

Supporters of capital punishment, including the wives of two Baltimore City police officers killed on duty, urged the House Judiciary Committee to keep the penalty as a matter of simple justice.

State lawmakers reinstated the death penalty 10 years ago after the law had been declared unconstitutional under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

While no one has been executed in Maryland's gas chamber for 26 years, some of the 17 inmates on death row have nearly exhausted their appeals, said Sandra O'Connor, state's attorney for Baltimore County.

O'Connor, who supports capital punishment, told the committee that she expects an execution within the next year. The state's attorney argued that society has a right to inflict death on those who commit heinous crimes as a demonstration of society's abhorrence.

Gary Christopher, assistant public defender, complained that Maryland's law has proved to be a costly failure.

In his plea for abolition, Archbishop William D. Borders of Baltimore stressed moral arguments against the penalty. "What we are saying {with the death penalty} is we have a right to kill killers," he said.