Death penalty opponents launched a public relations campaign yesterday aimed at pressuring Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to halt the execution of a condemned inmate scheduled to die by injection next week.
Beginning this morning, radio spots on six stations in Maryland and Washington will call attention to the planned execution of Wesley E. Baker, 47, which would be the state's second since 1998, and to a study that the advertisement says "found that the death penalty is biased against black people."
"But that didn't matter to Bob Ehrlich and [lieutenant governor] Michael Steele," the ad says. "So, after Dec. 5, they are planning to kill Wesley Baker, a black man."
Although Baker's attorneys continue to seek relief from the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, only the governor has the power to commute his sentence. A spokesman for Ehrlich (R) said the governor is reviewing Baker's motion for clemency and had not made a decision.
Baker's sentence was stayed three years ago to give state-sponsored researchers time to complete an analysis of inequalities in the application of the state's death penalty law. The researchers found that prosecutors were far more likely to seek the death penalty for black suspects charged with killing white victims, as Baker was in Baltimore County in 1991.
The study, commissioned by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 2000, fueled efforts to impose a moratorium on executions and to push anti-death penalty measures in legislature, none of which passed.
Steele, who has described the study's findings as "personally troubling," pledged during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign to study the issue. A spokesman for Steele's current campaign, for the U.S. Senate, said yesterday that Steele is studying the issue and that he expects to report to the governor "in the near future." Both Ehrlich's spokesman, Henry Fawell, and Steele's spokesman, Leonardo Alcivar, said Steele and Ehrlich have discussed the Baker case privately.
In addition to the radio spots, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions will run an advertisement in Baltimore's Afro-American newspaper saying Baker's sentence should be commuted to life without the possibility of parole. The advertisement accuses Steele of failing to live up to his pledge and says moving ahead with the execution would "ignore our community's very legitimate concerns."
"It is not only unfair and unjust to impose the death penalty in Maryland, it's racist," state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore) said at a news conference in Annapolis yesterday.
Six of the seven men on Maryland's death row are black, and all but one of their victims were white. "Even though we go through many checks and balances, the system does not work," Del. Darryl A. Kelley (D-Prince George's) said.
Baker was convicted in 1992 of murdering Jane Tyson, 49, during a robbery in the parking lot of a Catonsville mall. According to trial testimony, Baker approached Tyson and her two grandchildren, pressed a gun to the left side of her head and squeezed the trigger.
He was within days of his scheduled execution in 2002 when Glendening stayed the sentence to allow completion of the death penalty study.
University of Maryland professor Raymond Paternoster, in announcing the findings of the study, said the explanation for the disparities rested with state's attorneys, not juries, although he was careful not to impugn the prosecutors' motives.
He said his analysis does not mean that "there is racial animus" among prosecutors but rather that "the product of their action does result in racial disparity."