- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Lawkmakers voted yesterday to create a commission to study capital punishment in Maryland after efforts to repeal the death penalty failed for a second straight year.

The House voted 89-48 to form the commission, which would study racial, jurisdictional and economic disparities in how the death penalty has been administered. The Senate voted several hours later for a similar bill on a 32-15 vote.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment also would study the risk of innocent people being executed and compare the costs of executing someone with the expense of imprisoning someone for life without parole.

The commission would issue a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 15.

Republicans, citing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s opposition to capital punishment, criticized the idea, saying commission was being set up to recommend ending the death penalty. Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Washington County Republican, described the proposal as “a textbook model on how to repeal the death penalty in your state.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the verdict is already in before the jury has even gone out,” Mr. Shank said.

“This bill is about the repeal of the death penalty, and I would suggest a ‘no’ vote.”

But Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, said the bill was carefully amended to make sure the commission will be “open to discussion and consideration.”

“We feel as a committee that we have amended the bill sufficiently so this bill, as it now stands, creates a credible task force — one that will objectively look at the issues,” he said.

Maryland has a de facto moratorium on capital punishment because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state’s highest court. The court ruled the state’s protocol for the lethal injection procedure was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until the O’Malley administration submits new rules for the committee to approve.

Only five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland.

Maryland currently has five men on death row.

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