Expanded Voting, Medical Marijuana and Other Measures Signed
ANNAPOLIS – After a protracted fight, one signature proved to be the final action that repealed the death penalty in Maryland.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the law repealing the death penalty on May 2 before a packed house.
O'Malley said the state has "a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful, and that are expensive, and that do not work. Therefore, we are signing into law today a repeal [of] the death penalty in Maryland."
While the signing took only a few seconds, there happened to be so many individuals interested in this legislation that O'Malley and others had to pose for photographs numerous times to accommodate requests.
"I want to thank Benjamin Civiletti, who led the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, some 40 years ago," said O'Malley. "That work, that understanding, and that ability to bring people together, so that all of us could talk openly and honestly and confront our fears, and also confront the truths that unite us, was also a big part of what enabled us to get to this point."
Benjamin Todd Jealous, national president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference attended the historic signing at the State House in Annapolis.
O'Malley thanked Jealous along with several other senators and delegates for their efforts in ending the death penalty in the state.
"Today Maryland becomes the first state south of the Mason Dixon line to repeal the death penalty," said Jealous. "This is a great day for Maryland and a great day for justice. Maryland is now the sixth state in six years to repeal the death penalty. We are confident we will abolish capital punishment in its entirety throughout the United States within our lifetimes."
Stansbury said that a broad coalition such as the one that came together in Maryland should be replicated across the country to repeal the death penalty nationwide.
"We are on the right side of history on this issue," said Stansbury. "Ending the death penalty will benefit all people in this state. Though our justice system is still imperfect, this is a major step toward correcting it."
The NAACP counts among a number of coalition groups and individuals who fought to end the death penalty.
A number of groups that included Amnesty International, relatives of inmates and at least one former death row inmate who was later exonerated stood among the throng who crowded the lobby, staircase and the Governor's Reception Room in the State House for the signing of a number of new laws.
One woman, who refused to disclose her name, said she sneaked away from work to attend the signing ceremony.
"I just think the death penalty is abhorrent," said the woman who identified herself only as a Prince George's County resident. "You can't undo a mistake."
Wearing a "Who Would Jesus Execute?" button, the woman added that too often people sentenced to the death penalty lack financial resources to obtain adequate legal representation.
She said she was a member of the Community of Sant'Egidio, an international Catholic organization that has "worked long and hard" to abolish the death penalty in Maryland and around the world.
The repeal of the death penalty, which goes into effect October 1, specifies that in cases in which the state has filed a notice to seek a sentence of death, the notice shall be considered withdrawn and a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole will take its place.
Opponents of the repeal have reportedly vowed to have the issue decided by a referendum vote.
A website already has been established to gather petition signatures to force the death penalty issue to be decided by a public vote. At MDPetitions.com, the opening web page poses the question "What if ...it was the 'Baltimore Marathon Bombing?' Now is NOT the time to repeal the death penalty in Maryland."
Washington County Delegate Neil Parrott (R), who has led several referendum efforts, has been identified as the chair of MDPetitions.com. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger (D), has also stated his opposition to the repeal of the death penalty. He calls the death penalty a "valuable tool" for law enforcement.
Other bills also signed into law by O'Malley on May 2 included: expansion of early voting, establishment of a center for school safety, anti-bullying and legalization of medical marijuana.