Death Penalty Commission Wraps Up Hearings, Prepares Report


ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 24, 2008)—Kimberly Armstrong's son was murdered almost four years ago.

But as she took her seat in front of Maryland's capital punishment commission this week, she didn't testify in favor of the death penalty. Instead, she asked the commission to spare the lives of those who are on death row.

"My son not being here is no different from the death penalty. The person that you will kill still belongs to someone else," said Armstrong, president of Diamond Development, Inc., a Baltimore consulting firm specializing in grief counseling, self-esteem and other skills. "Imagine getting a phone call saying that your child has been murdered. The thought of someone hurting your child makes you sick."

For two months, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment has listened to testimony from dozens of public and expert witnesses, all desperately trying to persuade the panel to keep or repeal the death penalty.

Paul Muccino, who is retired, testified at the first public hearing in favor of the death penalty.

"Out of all the surveys that have been done, not one said there was anything wrong with the death penalty. They all just said there is something wrong with the process, so they should just correct that," Muccino said. "People say the death penalty is not fair, but that's not a good enough reason. So are we just supposed to be kind to a thug?"

After Monday night's 5 1/2 hour final public hearing, the commission will begin to write its recommendations on whether or not the death penalty should be repealed.

Led by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, the 23-member commission includes a police chief, the nation's first death row prisoner to be exonerated because of DNA testing, relatives of murdered victims, legislators, a county prosecutor and religious leaders. The commission will submit its final report in December.

The Maryland Court of Appeals stopped all executions in December 2006 after it ruled that the state's lethal injection protocol was implemented without proper legislative approval. Executions cannot resume until O'Malley submits a new or rewritten protocol.

Since being sworn into office, O'Malley, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has testified before two legislative committees in favor of ending the practice.

Five inmates have been executed in the state since Maryland's death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Wesley Baker, the last inmate to be executed in the state, was killed by lethal injection in December 2005.

There are five men on death row in Maryland. Three of them have been there for more than 20 years.

Only 12 states and Washington, D.C., do not use capital punishment. Nationally, there are 3,309 inmates on death row, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Opponents maintain that the economic burden the death penalty places on the state budget is astronomical.

"It's not strictly a monetary issue. If we're using courthouse space and lawyers, we have to rightfully account for those costs," said Kenneth Stanton, a professor at the University of Baltimore. "It would be nice to use the money for preventative measures. We could add training to forensic labs. Every single one of those resources could be used elsewhere."

Maryland's death penalty has cost the state nearly $200 million, former U.S. Senator Joseph E. Tydings said in his testimony to the commission.

A report released by the Urban Institute this August said that each case that results in the death penalty costs Maryland taxpayers approximately $3 million.

Patrick Kent, chief of the forensics division at the Maryland Public Defender's office, warned about the possibility of executing innocent people, specifically citing the recent problems with DNA contamination in the state's crime labs.

"You can take perfect science, but it will always be in the hands of imperfect people," Kent said. "Science will march on but it will leave many behind."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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