Legislators Propose Death Penalty Repeal; O'Malley Says He'll Sign It

By SHARAHN D. BOYKIN, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - The move to the death penalty in Maryland picked up momentum Thursday as legislators unveiled a bill to ban capital punishment, and Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would sign it if it passed.

"If the bill is debated in the General Assembly and members of the legislature come to a consensus, (O'Malley) would sign bill," said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor.

The governor has said the death penalty is not cost effective, and money spent on cases involving the death penalty could be redirected to other more effective measures.

"I would like to see us evolve to a point where we all understand that the death penalty does not deter violent crime and does not saves lives," O'Malley said in an interview Wednesday. "And in fact, we spend a whole lot of money prosecuting the death penalty when instead we could be preventing crime and saving lives by putting those dollars into other things that actually do work."

O'Malley called the death penalty "a policy that does not work and that wastes a lot of money and does not advance the dignity of the individual ... so I'd like to see us evolve to a point in time where we no longer have the death penalty in our country."

On Thursday, co-sponsors of a death penalty repeal bill, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore, vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters they would shortly introduce a death penalty abolition bill and feel they have a good chance of passing it.

Gladden said she thinks the availability of the option of sentencing convicted offenders to life imprisonment with out parole will help the bill pass. This option was not available when the state's death penalty was reenacted.

"Life without parole is an option that those who may support the death penalty would choose over a death sentence," Gladden said. "So this is a very different time for us in the state of Maryland."

The challenge, Gladden said, is getting the additional votes needed in the House and the Senate. They need 24 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House.

"... We're not there yet, but I don't think it's totally out of the question that we could pass the repeal bill this year," Gladden said.

Gladden and Rosenberg also had concerns about garnering support form Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who co-sponsored the death penalty bill in 1978. Miller, who could not be reached for comment, also cast the deciding vote which prevented the reinstatement of a death penalty moratorium in 2003, according to previous news accounts.

Currently, there are eight people on Maryland's death row. Steve Oken was the last person executed in Maryland in 2004. The 42-year-old, convicted of murder charges, was executed by lethal injection.

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