Maryland's Acting Gov. Blair Lee III unveiled today details of a new capital punishment bill that would allow a judge or jury to impose the death penalty for a variety of first-degree murder offenses.
Lee said at his weekly press conference that he will sponsor the bill at the coming legislative session both because he believes Marylanders want a death penalty and because he favors the idea himself.
"I think that despite all the arguments that go on and all the statistics that are produced that (the death penalty) is a deterrent for premeditated crimes . . . for contract murders and things like that," he said.
"Lee's bill would permit the death penalty for 10 variations of murder, including murder of a police officer, murder of a hostage or kidnap victim, murder on contract mass murder and murder in a prison.
Maryland's General Assembly has been trying for the past four years to pass a constitutional capital punishment measure. Each time, the bills have either been defeated in Assembly votes or struck down in the courts.
Last year Gov. Marvin Mandel vetoed a Senate measure that was passed after long and heated debate. Mandel said the bill was "laced with the most serious ambiguities and uncertainties" and challenges to it would tie up state courts for years.
The death penalty legislation revealed by Lee today is similar to a Mandel administration measure that was rejected in the last session. It was a Senate version that was later vetoed.
The Lee bill would set up a two-tier system, one for determining whether the defendant is innocent or guilty, the other for determining whether a guilty person should be punished by death or life imprisonment.
If the defendant were convicted of one of the 10 murders punishable by death, a judge or jury would have to weigh that crime against "mitiigating circumstances," such as his age, prior record and mental state.
A jury must be unanimous if it decides that the crime warrants capital punishment under the bill. Any decision in favor of the death penalty would automatically be reviewed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.