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Racial Disparities and Costs Make Lawmakers Revisit Death Penalty

Odell B. Ruffin | 1/28/2009, 12:30 p.m.

As the Maryland General Assembly meets from Jan. 14 through Apr. 13., Gov. Martin O€Malley (D) is aggressively pushing for the repeal of the state€s death penalty. O€Malley€s pursuit to eliminate capitol punishment in the state directly followed the release of the Maryland Commission on Capitol Punishment€s Final Report to the General Assembly on Dec. 12.

"This is a very personal issue for members of the General Assembly, families of victims, law enforcement and the public, but it is my hope that we can all take the time to review the facts presented in this report thoroughly and with an open mind," O'Malley said.
According to the commission€s Final Report, the implementation of the death penalty in Maryland has been tainted with racial and geographic disparities, riddled with error beyond reform and is too expensive and ineffective as a deterrent to preventing crime.

Chair Benjamin R. Civiletti, the former U.S. Attorney General, senior partner at Venable LLP; Sen. Jamie Raskin (D); and Kathy C. O€Donnell, Chief Attorney of Maryland are the leading members of the Maryland Commission on Capitol Punishment.

The commission€s research showed that cases in which African American offenders killed Caucasian victims, they are almost two and half times more likely to have the death penalty imposed than in cases where Caucasian offenders killed Caucasian victims.

According to the Final Report to the General Assembly, 1,125 death row executions and 130 exonerations took place nationwide between 1995-2007. Furthermore, for every 8.7 death row executions, one inmate has been exonerated. The reversal rate for capital cases in Maryland outpaces that of many other jurisdictions, totaling 80 percent between 1995-2007.

Since 1978, after the reinstatement of the death penalty in Maryland, there have been 353 death notices issued, 215 death notice cases went to trial and 77 death sentences issued, according to the commission€s report. The state placed a moratorium on Capital punishment in December 2006 as a result of the Court of Appeals, equivalent to the Supreme Court in other states, decided that the lethal injection method was not adopted properly, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The commission€s report also found that the death penalty is costly and ineffective.

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, conducted a study entitled €The Cost of the Death Penalty€ that found that death row costs could range from $1.1 million to $3 million per capital-eligible case.

Although The Urban Institute conducts research that supports the findings in the Maryland Commission on Capitol Punishment€s Final Report to the General Assembly, not all government officials agree with the methodology the organization used in its study.

"I'm not actually sure I share the view on the methodology that was used in [the Urban Institute study], but I do think it's clear that there are to be additional expenses, and we've seen those when we sought death penalty cases in our office," Glenn Ivey, State Attorney for Prince Georges County, said.

Anti-death penalty organizations like the Maryland Citizens Against State Executions disagreed with the implementation of the death penalty because it is an unnecessary expense, as well as for other moral reasons.

"What have Maryland's taxpayers gotten for their $186 million? A system that has clogged our courts, delays justice for victims' families, and risks execution of an innocent person," Jane M. Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said.

Members of various faith-based communities including Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Catholics in Maryland formed the Interfaith Coalition to End the Death Penalty advocacy campaign to promote the abolishment of Capital punishment after a number of religious leaders testified before the commission, according to an article in the Frederick News-Post.

Clergy representing more than 1,000 congregations across Maryland sent letters to O€Malley and the General Assembly advocating the repeal of €the law allowing for the state execution of men and women,€ according to an article in the Frederick News-Post.

€Common to all of our faiths in the belief in the sanctity of life and forgiveness, we believe that no one is beyond redemption. We are called to restore people to wholeness in society,€ the ICEDP€s letter stated. €Even for one who has murdered€"never should we or our government on our behalf deny the prospect of redemption.€