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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Md. lawmakers seek to repeal death penalty

Md. lawmakers seek to repeal death penalty
O'Malley says he would sign bill that favors life without parole as alternative


By Brian Witte
The Associated Press
Originally published January 25, 2007, 5:59 PM EST

Lawmakers announced plans today to introduce legislation that would repeal the death penalty in Maryland -- a measure Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would sign if the General Assembly approves it.

State Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, and Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, are sponsoring bills that would replace the state's death penalty with a prison sentence of life without parole.

O'Malley, a Democrat who personally opposes the death penalty, said he "sure would" sign a bill repealing the death penalty in favor of life without parole."We waste a lot of money pursuing a policy that doesn't work to reduce crime or to save lives, but we could be putting that money into crime reduction," O'Malley said in a brief interview not long after legislators supporting the measure held a news conference. "I'm much more in favor of life without parole."

Although Gladden and Rosenberg both said they believe support for a repeal has grown, they said they would need to find more votes to get the measure through both chambers.

"While I think that it's a difficult task, I don't think it's impossible," Gladden said.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who spent two years on death row and was later released from prison because of DNA evidence, said at the news conference that he was "living proof that the criminal justice system makes serious mistakes."

Bloodsworth was convicted twice of killing a 9-year-old girl in 1984. He was placed on death row following his first trial. He was convicted again in a second trial, but received a life sentence instead of capital punishment. He was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1993.

Bloodsworth said his experience proved an innocent person can end up on death row.

"If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody in this room and anybody in the state of Maryland," Bloodsworth said.

Gladden said Bloodworth's case demonstrated a need for ending capital punishment.

"I think that we have standing examples of why it's important that we repeal this," she said. "It doesn't work. The system's broken."

Last month, the state's highest court ruled that executions in Maryland can't go forward until a legislative committee reviews Maryland's lethal injection protocol. The Court of Appeals ruling was made four days after executions were halted in California and Florida over concerns that lethal injections, as carried out, constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Delegate Anne Healey, who co-chairs the committee that would have to hold hearings on the protocol, said it was up to the governor to decide whether the committee should take up the review. She said she hasn't heard from O'Malley on the matter.

Healey, D-Prince George's, said she's not sure lawmakers want to wade into such a divisive debate this year.

"I think it's a big question mark whether people are interested taking it up this year," said Healey, who opposes the death penalty. Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, a death penalty supporter who represents parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, said he believes the lethal injection review should be taken up to affirm the use of capital punishment in the state. However, the Republican said he didn't think the committee would bother this session, because lawmakers want to focus on budget issues.

"I think it's going to put it on the back burner," Brinkley said.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a death penalty opponent who co-chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Review that would have to hold hearings on the state's lethal injection protocol, said it was unclear whether the committee would take up the matter this year.

"Right now, we have a default moratorium, which I think is fine," Pinsky said.

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