House Rejects Amendments, on Verge of Death Penalty Repeal


ANNAPOLIS—The Maryland House of Delegates rejected a number of emotionally charged amendments to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s death penalty repeal bill Wednesday, leaving it likely to pass later in the week.

If approved without additional amendments, the bill’s next stop would be the governor’s desk, where it would be signed into law.

“I think there was no real surprise, I think (proponents of the repeal) had the votes before they even came out, but I was hoping to change some of their minds,” said Delegate C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, the only Democrat to propose an amendment on the floor.

Despite the strong support for the bill in the House, opponents tried to keep the death penalty available in certain cases, including for those who kill more than 1,000 people, those who commit acts of terror and anyone who kills firefighters in the line of duty.

The amendments typically received between 50 and 60 votes, while a bloc of about 80 consistently supported repeal.

The Senate voted last week in favor of the repeal bill.

Delegate Patrick Hogan, R-Frederick, proposed an amendment that had not previously been introduced in the death penalty debates in the Senate, and one that assumed the death penalty would be repealed.

Hogan's amendment would have stripped inmates serving sentences of life without parole of the rights to visitors, education, and Internet and TV access.

"The victims' families no longer get to see their loved ones. Neither should their murderers,” Hogan said.

Other opponents of the repeal argued that if the bill were to pass, convicted murderers should be subject to less than desirable living conditions.

“Make them suffer, that’s justice,” said Delegate Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County.

Maryland is poised to join 17 other states that have abolished capital punishment. The law would allow the governor to commute or change a sentence of death to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the five inmates currently on death row.

“We just can’t make the system work, regardless of who the victim may be,” said Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, the House floor leader for the governor’s bill, after opponents offered amendments that would punish killers of law enforcement officers, correctional facility guards, children in schools and groups of 100 and 1,000 people.

The death penalty has not been applied in Maryland since 2005, when Wesley Eugene Baker was executed for robbing and fatally shooting Jane Tyson in a Catonsville mall parking lot in June 1991.

The General Assembly passed the state’s current law in 2009. The law restricts the death penalty to cases where DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or video evidence of the crime are available.

Watching the debate from the House chamber gallery was Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending two years on Maryland’s death row, and even more in prison.

Bloodsworth said his mantra has always been that if Maryland does not have the death penalty, the state would never be able to execute an innocent person.

Opponents of the bill booed following the debate Wednesday night, but are determined to keep fighting when the House meets for the final vote.

“We’ll stand up and make the same arguments, put those issues out there,” said Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil. “People were upset by my frankness, but we’re voting about life and death. That is a very serious issue and the most serious issue we’re going to deal with here.”

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