TO THE RELIEF of all who opposed it from the start, Maryland's death penalty bill died Thursday of complications following protracted surgery in the General Assembly. As noted in an opinion by state Attorney General Francis B. Burch, the language of the bill would have presented a maze of procedural problems had the measure been enacted. Gov. Marvin Mandel - like Mr. Burch an advocate of the death penalty - agreed in a letter explaining his veto that the bill was "laced with the most serious ambiguities and uncertainties." Though the governor saw his own version of death-penalty legislation go ignored in the assembly this year, there's no telling now how much of an effort may be made again next year when the legislature convenes.
The assembly spent a lot of time and debate in producing this bad bill. But bad as it was, a case can be made that the governor's bill was even worse, in the sense that it might have worked. The assembly version, on the other hand, was sure to have led to "extended litigation, tying up the courts for years," as Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III noted in announcing the governor's veto. That is not a case, we hasten to add, that we would make, if only because it is beside the point - or our point, at any rate - which is that there's a better way to dispose of this issue. The right course, we have long held, is to end all efforts to legislate capital punishment.
Right now, fortunately, no one is under a death sentence in Maryland. Moreover, the state has been without a death penalty since January, when the state court of appeals ruled that the old law did not meet the Supreme Court's new strictures. So it isn't a question of needing some "quick fix" on the books.
The belief that killing criminals somehow solves anything or improves the world or meets the demands of true since justice is still widespread, however. We continue to hope, nonetheless, for the time when reverence for life will count for more than the desire for revenge or the hope for some compelling deterrent effect from the execution of criminals. Rather than to resurrect this issue in Maryland, the governor and the legislature would do far better to commit the same amount of time and attention to more sensitive, difficult - and, if you will, effective - efforts to curb crime in the state.