- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

OCEAN CITY, Md. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. proposed changes to the state's criminal justice system yesterday, including repealing the recent moratorium on the death penalty.
Speaking before the annual convention of the Maryland Republican Party, Mr. Ehrlich said that upon taking office he would immediately rescind the moratorium enacted by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening last month "but do it in a way that people know that guilt is not an issue."
Mr. Ehrlich took issue with the timing of the moratorium, imposed a week before Wesley Baker was to be executed, calling it "wrong, cynical and grossly unfair to the victim's family."
Republicans have said Mr. Glendening imposed the moratorium to appeal to black anti-death-penalty voters in an election year. Mr. Glendening said he had serious concerns about whether there was racial bias in the cases of the men awaiting execution. When the announcement was made, nine of the 13 men on death row were black.
Mr. Baker, a black man, was convicted of fatally shooting a white woman in a Baltimore County shopping center parking lot in 1991 as her 4-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson watched.
"Certainly in the present case, guilt was never an issue," Mr. Ehrlich said, explaining that in Illinois, which also has a moratorium, there were "procedural" problems that do not apply to Maryland. To help ensure the death penalty is administered fairly, Mr. Ehrlich called for establishing an executive review process to evaluate every death penalty sentence.
David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said Mr. Ehrlich's stance was itself politically motivated.
"He's playing to the crowd," Mr. Paulson said.
Mr. Ehrlich also pledged to cut the state's violent gun crimes in half, calling for the implementation of a "Project Exile" initiative to target and aggressively prosecute repeat offenders with guns. Under the plan, felons possessing guns would face mandatory five-year prison terms.
Project Exile, which requires state and federal cooperation, rejects all plea bargains and eliminates parole for offenders.
Mr. Paulson said Project Exile is "stumbling and falling" in Virginia "after some initial excitement." He questioned whether it would be effective in Maryland, citing recent complaints by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, that U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio, a Republican, is not aggressively pursuing firearms cases.

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