State considers voting against death penalty

Maryland has only used execution five times since 1977

By: Jim Bach
Diamondback Online
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For several years, state lawmakers have proposed repealing the death penalty — an issue that will once again be brought up this session but has yet to make it to a full body vote in the state's General Assembly.

State Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City) — who has sponsored the senate legislation several times — said the issue has polarized lawmakers and prompted discussions about the merits of capital punishment as a crime deterrent. However, she said the bill will most likely not make it to the floor this year.

"I think as a community and a government we should not be in the business of killing people," Gladden said. "It has fallen short in crime suppression."

Since 1977, the state has only used the death penalty five times, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that analyzes death penalty statistics.

However, Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Baltimore and Harford) said the punishment is justified in certain circumstances. He said proposals for capital punishment repeals in the state are "criminal advocate bills," and said he would oppose any effort to vote on Senate Bill 872: Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriation From Savings to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims.

"It's very seldom, if ever, used. Maryland is one of the weakest states in the nation when it comes to prosecuting murderers," McDonough said, adding, "we keep watering down the punishment standards on death penalty cases."

The state's death penalty statute has been ineffective from a "cost-analysis standpoint," according to Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director.

He added that execution sentences have cost the state an estimated $180 million over the past 35 years.

"That kind of money could be used for ... a whole lot of things that have an effect on crime," Dieter said.

"It seems like just an inefficient approach to crime-fighting."

The bill generally struggles to make it through the hearing process because the 11-member Judicial Proceedings Committee has six senators opposed to the measure and five in support, Gladden said.

However, she said it will likely pass in the coming years due to a changing political climate in the state.

Jane Henderson — executive director for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, a coalition of anti-death penalty organizations in the state — said the organization would push to have the legislation voted for on the floor.

"It's time for Maryland to take this step and really make this big policy change," she said, adding that this year "it's a different climate; there's a lot of momentum nationwide."

Some students said they are passionate about the issue as well.

Freshman criminology and criminal justice and journalism major Suyeon Son, said she changed her views on the death penalty after being exposed to the Innocence Project, a public policy organization aimed at assisting death row inmates facing execution who have been wrongfully accused.

She hopes to start up a chapter at this university, she added.

"Not all the people who are thought to have committed crimes are actually guilty of those crimes," she said. "So then it kind of made me double-over and rethink my idea on that."