The only way to stop some people from continuing to kill is to resort to the death penalty --Md. Senator Alex X. Mooney (R)
By SHARAHN D. BOYKIN, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Capital punishment opponents were dealt a major setback in the General Assembly Thursday when a proposal to abolish the death penalty in Maryland failed to win the approval of a key Senate committee.
"Regrettably, the only way to stop some people from continuing to kill is to resort to the death penalty," Sen. Alex X. Mooney
(pictured at left), R-Frederick and Washington, who was regarded as a swing vote on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said before the roll was called.
Mooney has been struggling publicly with his vote since it became clear that momentum was building this year for a repeal of capital punishment. He has been lobbied personally by two prominent death penalty opponents, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore.
Mooney's ambivalence surfaced when he offered an amendment to the death penalty bill that would repeal the death penalty for everyone except prisoners who commit murder. He called his proposed changes a "delicate balance" between those for and against the death penalty.
But committee members agreed that Mooney's proposed change would essentially defeat the purpose of the abolition proposal.
"You can't be a little bit pregnant and you can't have a little bit of a repeal," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore, the lead sponsor of the proposal. "This amendment basically puts us into the same position we are in today, which says that some victims are better than other victims, and some defendants are much more worthy and deserving of the death penalty than others."
Gladden called Mooney's proposal "a killer amendment."
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George's, voiced concerns about applying the death penalty to certain classifications of offenders, and worried these classifications would grow each year and weaken the legislation.
"You open the door to so many things that it's not really a repeal," Muse said.
All members of the committee, except Mooney and Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, who was absent, voted against Mooney's proposed change.
Knowing that the death penalty repeal proposal did not have enough votes to pass, Sen. Jamin B. Raskin, D-Montgomery, proposed creating a commission to study capital punishment in Maryland. Among other things, the commission would look for alternatives to the death penalty, examine the cost of capital punishment and asses its effectiveness.
"Obviously if we knew we could save any particular life, we would do whatever we could do to save it," Raskin said. "But we don't have a law that says we can torture people who are in prison if we think its going to prevent them from committing a crime.
"So there's certain things we come to realize, as a society, no longer function with our morality, or our ethics or our criminal justices system. And that's where I am on the death penalty."
Some senators stated that there have already been a number of studies on the state's death penalty and questioned if the committee should request further studies.
"It should be left up to the governor if we should conduct anymore studies on the issue," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Baltimore and Carroll.
Raskin did not receive enough votes for the death penalty commission proposal to pass.
Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg has a similar death penalty repeal proposal that is pending a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.