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O’Malley aims to nix death penalty ban

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ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday took the first step toward lifting Maryland's ban on the death penalty but said he will do so reluctantly.

"I do not have the luxury in this job, or the permission in this job, only to enforce laws that I'm in favor of and that I agree with," said Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat.

The governor asked his public safety secretary, Gary D. Maynard, to review a recent Supreme Court ruling that lethal injection is constitutional and to draft guidelines to reinstate injections in Maryland, barred by the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2006.

Mr. O'Malley had previously balked at drafting new regulations, creating the de facto moratorium on executions in Maryland.

"Sadly, we'll be moving forward with those protocols," he said.

The Maryland high court barred executions until the state submits new procedures for administering lethal injection, which the General Assembly would have to approve.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that lethal injection did not violate the constitutional ban against cruel-and-unusual punishment.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, ended the state's moratorium after the high court's ruling.

The Tennessee legislature extended a deadline for its death-penalty commission to report its findings.

However, many of the 35 other states that still execute prisoners have wrestled with the issue over the past few years.

Proponents of the death penalty in the Assembly tried unsuccessfully in the past two years to pass legislation forcing Mr. O'Malley to draft the regulations.

Opponents of the penalty said they were not rattled by Mr. O'Malley's announcement.

"I think this is going to take some time, as [Mr. O'Malley] has indicated," said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Execution.

"The primary question is whether we should have the death penalty."

Mr. O'Malley, a Catholic, did not say how long it will take to draft the rules but indicated that they might be done by the end of the year.

The Assembly during its 2008 session established a commission to study the cost of the death penalty in Maryland. Members of the commission - the third such group in the past five years - are expected to report their findings by the end of the year.

Maryland has five men on death row. 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 has spent at least $186 million on the death penalty since reinstating it in 1978, according to a report by the Urban Institute released earlier this year.

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