Maryland Legislators, NAACP Head Push to End Death Penalty

Gale Horton Gay | 1/23/2013, 10:06 a.m.

Putting an end to the death penalty in Maryland is a top priority for several state political and civil rights leaders.

At a press conference last week in Annapolis, the governor, lieutenant governor and head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) expressed their determination to make 2013 the year that capital punishment is repealed. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said he planned to file legislation within days to abolish the death penalty.

"If you look over 30 or 40 years, the death penalty was on the books, and yet Baltimore still became the most violent and addicted city in America," said O'Malley. "Having the death penalty on the books did nothing to keep the homicides from rising."

The legislation being introduced - Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriation of Saving to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims - would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill reallocates $500,000 annually to aid surviving family members of murder victims with funding coming from savings in the state general fund realized by ending death penalty prosecutions.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said that while the justice system in Maryland is strong, "we know that we can be strong on justice while also protecting innocence."

He stressed that appropriate punishments must remain in place for those who are convicted of crimes.

During the Jan. 15 press conference, Brown said that a study found that in Maryland, a black defendant who kills a white victim is two and a half times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white defendant who kills a white victim.

Since 1977, 140 death row inmates in America have been exonerated due to evidence of wrongful conviction, said Brown.

"In an imperfect system the only way to prevent these inequalities - these injustices; the only way to prevent the wrongful execution of an innocent defendant is to abolish the death penalty," said Brown.

Brown also said that African Americans make up slightly more than 13 percent of America's population, yet more than 37 percent of America's prisoners are African American and nearly 41 percent of this country's death row inmates are black.

"When I think of my sons - our sons - I think of the responsibility we have to them to build a state where fairness, truth, and justice - and not retribution or biases - are at the core of our beliefs," he said.

Brown applauded partners in the General Assembly and the Legislative Black Caucus who have insisted for years that repealing the death penalty be a priority in Maryland. He also praised the governor for "choosing to lead on one of the most important issues of our time."

O'Malley last sponsored a bill for repeal in 2009, when the legislation was amended to keep the death penalty in cases in which there was DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime being committed.

Placing a moratorium on the death penalty is one of the National NAACP's advocacy issues.

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous pledged to work with Maryland's governor to end the death penalty in the state this year.

"The death penalty has failed Maryland," Jealous said at the press conference. "It does not deter crime and is used almost exclusively on the poor. The death penalty squanders millions of law enforcement dollars that could be better spent on victims' services and catching killers still at large."

The governor said that the money spent on the death penalty could be better allocated.

"Every dollar we choose to spend on an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we're not spending on crime-fighting technologies and tools that actually work," said O'Malley. "Investing in law enforcement, data-driven policing, performance measurement, strengthening partnerships, investing in the latest crime fighting technologies, DNA analysis - these are the ways we drive down crime."

If legislators approve the repeal, Maryland would be the sixth state to abandon the death penalty in recent years, following New York in 2004.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Maryland senators Brian E. Frosh and Lisa Gladden counted among the political leaders who attended the press conference.