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Maryland considers repeal of death penalty

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland lawmakers said yesterday they will introduce legislation to repeal the death penalty, a measure Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would sign if the General Assembly approves it.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden and Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrats, are sponsoring bills that would replace the state's death penalty with a prison sentence of life without parole.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat who personally opposes the death penalty, said he "sure would" sign such a bill in favor of life without parole.

"We waste a lot of money pursuing a policy that doesn't work to reduce crime or to save lives, but we could be putting that money into crime reduction," Mr. O'Malley said. "I'm much more in favor of life without parole."

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, supported capital punishment. He reinstituted the death penalty after taking office in 2003, refusing to uphold a moratorium by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Michael Paranzino, executive director of Throw Away the Key, which supports capital punishment, said a debate on the death penalty is needed.

"It's better to debate this in the open," he said. "We will be educating the lawmakers about the victims of murder. While I think that it's a difficult task, I don't think it's impossible."

Mrs. Gladden and Mr. Rosenberg think support for a repeal has increased, but said more votes are needed to get the measure through both chambers.

Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who spent two years on death row and was later released from prison because of DNA evidence, said yesterday he was "living proof that the criminal justice system makes serious mistakes."

Mr. Bloodsworth was convicted twice of killing a 9-year-old girl in 1984. He was placed on death row following his first trial. Mr. Bloodsworth was convicted again in a second trial, but received a life sentence instead of capital punishment. He was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1993.

Mrs. Gladden said the Bloodsworth case demonstrated a need for ending capital punishment.

The proposed legislation follows a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision to stop the use of lethal injection in executions until acceptable procedures are developed with oversight by the Attorney General's Office and the state legislature. The decision came just days after executions were stopped in California and Florida over concerns that lethal injections might constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

No death sentences can be carried out in Maryland until the injection issue is resolved.

Delegate Anne Healey, co-chairman of the joint legislative committee that would hold hearings on the injection protocol, said the governor will decide whether members should take up the review. Mrs. Healey, a Prince George's Democrat, said she hasn't heard from Mr. O'Malley on the issue.

Mrs. Healey, who opposes the death penalty, said she's not sure lawmakers want to wade into such a divisive debate this year.

Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, a Frederick and Carroll counties Republican, thinks the lethal-injection review should be taken up to affirm the use of capital punishment in the state. However, he doesn't think the committee would bother this session, because lawmakers want to focus on budget issues.

"I think it's going to put it on the back burner," he said.

Another issue is a University of Maryland study released in 2003 that found those who murder a white person are twice as likely to get a death sentence than those who murder a black person.

There are six inmates on Maryland's death row.

-- Vernon Evans Jr. was sentenced May 15, 1984, in Baltimore County. He and Anthony Grandison were convicted in the shooting deaths of David S. Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy at a Pikesville motel.

-- Mr. Grandison was sentenced June 6, 1984, in Baltimore County.

-- John Booth-El was sentenced Oct. 18, 1984, in Baltimore. He fatally stabbed an elderly couple, Irvin and Rose Bronstein, in their home.

-- Heath W. Burch was sentenced March 29, 1996, in Prince George's County. He killed a neighbor, Robert F. Davis, and his wife, Cleo, during a botched late-night robbery.

-- Jody L. Miles was sentenced March 19, 1998, in Queen Anne's County. While collecting a debt for a loan shark, Miles fatally shot Edward J. Atkinson in the back of the head in the woods in Mardela Springs.

-- Lawrence Borchardt was sentenced May 23, 2000, in Anne Arundel County, where the case was moved from Baltimore County. Five years later, Borchardt was granted a new sentencing hearing. Arguments to appeal this ruling are scheduled for next month. During a home-invasion robbery, he killed an elderly couple, Joseph and Bernice Ohler, leaving the crime scene with $11.

Reporter Tom LoBianco contributed to this report.