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March 4, 2009

Death penalty in Maryland: Right time for the debate?

Gov. Martin O’Malley has made repeal of the death penalty one of his top priorities this year. The Maryland Senate has spent portions of two days locked in debate. The issue could soon go to the House of Delegates, where more discussion will take place.

The arguments are being waged as the state wrestles with a severe economic downturn. Tax revenues are down. Deep budget cuts are needed. The Chesapeake Bay continues to deteriorate. Roads are clogged. Crime is problem in urban areas.

So the question is germane: Is this the right time for the governor and the General Assembly to focus on the death penalty? Does the debate demonstrate misplaced priorities? Or is the issue of capital punishment so vital that it deserves attention even during these difficult economic times?

What’s your view? We may publish some of your comments in the print edition of The Baltimore Sun.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:47 AM | | Comments (22)


There are numerous other issues that the Assembly and the Governor should be working on besides repealing the death penalty.

We live in a state that has executed only five people in 31 years since capital punishment was reinstated. We have five people on death row, three of which have been there for over 25 years.

If O'Malley doesn't like capital punishment, that is fine and his decision -- he can commute anyone who might be sentenced to death on his watch. However, when 55% of the population wants at least the option of pursuing the death penalty against a convicted murderer, it should remain.

There are too many other issues that this state needs to tackle besides repealing a law that is never used...

Is the issue of capital punishment so vital? These are human lives we are discussing; what could trump that?

That's a false dichotomy, it's not a matter of dealing with the budget OR the death penalty...

As inefficient as lawmakers seem to be, I think they can debate more than one item per session. Micro-managing isn't productive, and it doesn't look like they've spent that much time on it - isn't the debate over already anyway ?

With regards to evaluating the worthiness of the debate, I think that deciding if/when "We The People" of MD execute people is important. It was certainly worth their spending a few hours or a couple days on it.

There is no time that is the wrong time to hold this debate, when the potential exists for the state to take an innocent life.

does this mean that it won't take 20-25 years in appeals to give these scum bags their just reward.

This is nothing but a Decoy on the part of Governor Martin O'Malley. He knows he can no longer promise the citizens financial relief from their BGE bills, lower their homeowners taxes or magically create high paying jobs like he promised 3 years ago. He cannot save invested retirement funds nor lower the cost of education. He does understand he cannot raise taxes again. He also can no longer blame Gov. Ehrlich or President George Bush. The only thing he can do is pray to god over people's souls and let every taxpayer know he is doing so on TV. Governor Martin O'Malley is out of options so he picks the one topic he can still use that may make him 'feel' good about his legacy. This is all about HIM.

If the King and his court wish to abolish the death penalty then it shall be done. On the positive side it distracts them from raising taxes and destroying other public policy issues. Although you could charge a fee to execute people.

People´s life is surely worth this debate.
I can only repeat that death-penalty is lawless because it will do what it is prohibiting : none is entitled to kill.

Death-penalty must be abolished everywhere in the world.

Greeting, f.a.

Gov. O’Malley’s career path would have been a lot smoother had he taken a position in favor of the death penalty. Evidence President Clinton, who made a show of taking time from his 1992 primary campaign travels to return to Arkansas to carry out an execution.

In fact, Democrats–particularly incumbent Democratic governors–suffer miniscule political consequence for supporting the death penalty, yet gain tremendous political advantage by doing so. The small slice of the electorate made up of liberals strongly opposing the death penalty have no alternative candidate.

If Gov. O’Malley really was the unprincipled, blindly ambitious political animal his opponents on the blogosphere and conservative talk radio paint him to be, he would have supported the death penalty from day one of his public career, and he would promulgate the regs and be prepared to sign death warrants now.

Although this is an issue of much greater consequence, Gov. O’Malley’s stand on the death penalty is not unlike his support of CASA. The easy path to political popularity would be to treat CASA like a punching bag and executions like campaign rallies. Instead, he does neither, knowingly inviting ire from vocal segments without palpable political reward from any quarter.

Whether you agree with him or not, give the man credit for choosing principle over politics.

- Steve Lebowitz

Governer Martin O'mally is an idiot period. Does this guy live in the same world as everyone else. Maybe he should turn on the five o'clock news once in a while. I'd like to see his take on the topic if one his loved one's was killed for no reason by some punk high on crack. We need to be firm on an issue like this. I bet if it was put to vote by the people who live in this state the death penalty would stand hands down.

The current death penalty debate does NOT reflect misplaced priorities -- in fact, it provides a key opportunity to openly discuss what attitude Maryland will adopt as a painful social problems develop from our deepening economic woes. The question of whether Maryland will choose the politics of hope and unity or the politics of fear and despair looms large in the death penalty debate.

The death penalty has experienced two major eras of increased usage & popularity in the US & Maryland -- one in the 1930's (which remains the highest executing decade in US history) and other in the 1980's and 1990's (which also saw peak numbers of executions & public support).


Both these eras were occasioned by dramatic social & economic change. The 1930's saw the devastation of the Great Depression. The 1980's & 90's witnessed the de-industrialization of our cities as key places of work were shutdown throughout the US. The social and economic impact of Baltimore City's urban-blight fell hardest on the city's Black community, made up of many recent southern immigrant workers whose sons are the majority of current and former death row prisoners. While the 'tough on crime' politics practiced in Baltimore County, reflect the suburban flight and fears of the mainly-white workers able to find a place in the 'new' economy.

This sad divide between white and Black, between City and County continues to impare our State's ability to address many of its most important social and economic challenges. If Maryland chooses to reject the death penalty now -- as if faces its biggest economic challenge of in 70 years --it will be signaling to its citizens that the politics of hope are prevailing over the politics of fear and despair. It will be an important step towards facing the challenges that lay ahead.


Mike Stark
Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Where is his principle over politics when Governor O'Malley is ok with funding of abortions?
Look, I could care less about the death penalty. I just hate the so called religious hypocrisy.

Hey Steve Lebowitz
what did the boy king have for breakfast this morning?
He is shoring up his base in Baltimore and Prince Georges county. Thus the public spectacle on the death penalty!
MOM is all about MOM period!
He sure did fix those BGE rates?
How about the special session to raise taxes before producing a budget?
Imperilism 101!

Name one accomplishment of his for the state of Maryland?

Name one accomplishment of his for Baltimore?

Maryland the fleece state that takes sooooo much in taxes and returns so
little to its peasants!

The days of hard labor in prison need to be brought back. There's only one deterrent that would make most of today's criminals fear prison... work. Then they could abolish the death penalty, and criminals would actually be paying back society with their labor for their crimes as opposed to having so much leisure time in jail.

I have an amendment for the DP bill.

With the existing amendment that there must be video, addmission to the crime or DNA, ADD

the DP MUST be called for if the above are met. NO if ands or buts. IT MUST BE USED IN ALL CASES that meet the requirements.

They say the death penalty is no deterent. I disagree. If it's carried out 25 years after the crime it is no deterent, but if there were public hangings in the high school gyms of drug dealers and users, I really think it would be a serious deterent. Mandatory attemdance required by students and parents of course

The timing on the debate should be considered dubious at best while we face potential dire consequences because our current economic situation. That being said, why is there a need to abolish it now? How many have actually been put to death recently? I can understand the possibility of errors being made, but they are extremely rare here in Maryland. Are there any validated times it has ever happened here? Without the ultimate punishment as an option, what would stop a life-term convict from murdering another inmate or guard? What should we tell the potential victims family? Maybe it's not the right decision for some because there's less than 100% concrete evidence and those ridiculous appeals, but for those that take another's life there has to be the ultimate penalty. We are becoming more lawless as a society where it really counts, so why take one more weapon off the streets?

I agree with Steve about labor being brought back to the prison system. This could solve two problems:

* the death penalty does not work as as deterent. Statistics prove this over and over. Manual labor would probably work better for this purpose. "Revenge" is the only valid excuse for the death penalty, and revenge is not a Christian act. Forgiveness is. So as a Christian nation, we should abolish the death penalty in favor of a better crime deterent. Nothing says "your'e fogiven" like allowing someone to live.

* if our overloaded prisons were full of people doing all those manual tasks that nobody wants to do, then we wouldn't have to employ illegal immigrants to do so. For those doubters that still need fenced borders, building those fences could be job #1 for all of those prisoners.

The death penalty is barbarous, expensive, and likely to be applied unequally, depending on location and ethnicity. So any time would be a good time to abolish it. It needn't interfere with other issues.

While I am in favor of the death penalty, I am not in favor of the timing of this debate. It seems our politicians need to do a lot more prioritization. I mean, where do you rank the death penalty debate with other hot topics such as banning beer pong and banning pets from riding in the back of pickup trucks? This city has countless problems yet the politicians seem to focus on the ones that seem least important to me. How about concentrating on getting the crime levels down, and then maybe we wouldn't need to worry about the death penalty debate...

Why not do this the last two years if it is soooo important? Regardless of your stance on the issue our attention is being diverted.
There is a moratorium on deaths in Md. right now. So nobody can be executed. Besides, Baltimore is still so safe from when he was mayor(remember? he told so...) we won't have any criminals up for the death penalty.
I know I'm not as smart as most of you folks, but can't anyone else see this liar for the thug he is?
If he doesn't get his way he bullies you. And what about Miller saying he'll let them debate it since the gov.'s a dem....
Oh oh you got me started....

You're asking a question David, but through it you've inferred a very good point. This issue has been deadlocked for years, literally years. Nothing has changed except O'Malley appointed a committee and then had his appointments issue a report (sort of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse). And what a surprise, the outcome has not changed.

It is great if you want to distract from tax hikes, irresponsible budgeting (42 mil left in reserve fund? John and Warren must be going nuts), a lack of a real legislative package (toughening a few laws...whoa, blow our socks off Martin), and you've got a series of corruption scandals going on all around you.

Marylanders should be outraged the Senate is going to waste 3 days and countless man hours on an issue that has been deadlocked and all to appease O'Malley's whims. Since when has O'Malley given 2 seconds thought to what the average Marylander wants? He defines JDF as the average Marylander.

PS- DCPS is still $79 million short for payroll in THIS fiscal year, but the Governor would rather chat about the death penalty then ensure corrections officers have a salary.... that and he has time to plan yet ANOTHER trip to Ireland.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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