Death penalty seen as ‘racist’

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ANNAPOLIS — Protesters rallied outside the governor’s mansion yesterday, calling for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to grant clemency to convicted killer Wesley Eugene Baker days before his scheduled execution next week.

More than 20 demonstrators rallied for Baker and other death row inmates. Baker, 47, is scheduled to be executed the week of Dec. 5 for the 1991 killing of 49-year-old teacher’s aide Jane Tyson in front of her grandchildren in a Baltimore County mall parking lot.

Terry Fitzgerald of the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty, who organized yesterday’s protest, said that killing Baker is “really no better than the actions of the murderers.”

“We know that the death penalty is racist and targets the poor, that innocent people end up on death row and that it does not deter crime,” he said.

On Wednesday, the state’s Court of Appeals rejected a stay of execution for Baker.

The appeal’s court, the state’s highest, last month upheld Baker’s death sentence, unanimously rejecting an appeal from his attorneys, who argued that his sentence was illegal because the death penalty is applied in a racially and geographically discriminatory way in Maryland.

His attorneys also had argued that his death sentence should be overturned because his attorneys at his sentencing hearing did not offer evidence of an abusive childhood.

Baker barred his trial attorneys from presenting any of his family history, according to court papers.

Baker was within a week of execution in May 2002 when Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, imposed a moratorium, after a University of Maryland study was released about the relationship between race and how the state dispenses death sentences.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, lifted the moratorium after he was elected in 2003.

Mr. Fitzgerald said using the death penalty as a tool of retribution for victims’ families is pointless and only creates new victims.

“Nothing is served by vengeance,” he said. “To those who say ‘what if one of your family members were murdered?’ One of my responses would be ‘what if someone in your family was on death row?’ ”

Rebecca Christopher, 21, a student and the daughter of Baker’s attorney Gary Christopher, attended the rally, saying the practice is “barbaric” and hypocritical.

“It’s morally wrong to kill someone, to show that killing someone is wrong,” she said.

Mr. Christopher’s wife, Evelyn Sprucin, said the death penalty is taxing to victims’ families because of the long appeals process.

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