The Maryland General Assembly is in session, so it's time for Gov. Martin O'Malley to resume his campaign to abolish capital punishment in the state. The governor's last repeal bill died in 2007 on a 5-5 vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and it was not even considered last year. But besides the governor, the other usual liberal suspects were rounded up - the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, and the ACLU - and are demanding abolition. And they are brandishing a study (released in December by a commission headed by Benjamin Civiletti, who served as U.S. attorney general under President Carter), which purported to demonstrate that the death penalty is inherently discriminatory and wrong. So, now, in a wave of sanctimony and self-righteousness, they are pressing Senate President Mike Miller, Calvert Democrat, to get the measure out of Judicial Proceedings.
As General Assembly Democrats go, Mr. Miller is a relative moderate who favors the death penalty. But he's under pressure from the orthodox liberals who dominate the Maryland Democratic Party, and so last week he vowed to oppose a filibuster by death-penalty supporters and said he would not thwart an effort to sidestep the committee if its members reject the governor's repeal efforts. More recently, and strangely, freshman Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican (and a conservative endorsed by this editorial page in his very tight 2006 race) indicated that he too would support moving the measure out of committee in exchange for an agreement by committee Democrats to move forward with legislation that he favors.
But that's logrolling at its worst - a terrible idea.
The flaws of the anti-death penalty arguments are well illustrated by the report issued by Mr. Civiletti's panel, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. In calling for an end to the death penalty, the committee (packed by the governor with a reliably anti-capital punishment majority) argued that there is an unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person. But they didn't even try to make the argument that any of the five men on Maryland's death row - Anthony Grandison, Heath Burch, John Booth-el, Vernon Evans, or Jody Miles - was innocent of the murder he was convicted of.
The study went to preposterous lengths to minimize the dangers inmates sentenced to life imprisonment pose to correctional officers and inmates, with the majority making a remarkable assertion: Offenders sentenced to life without parole, it said, "pose minimal risk to correctional officers and other inmates." It is difficult to believe that members of the panel were unaware of the recent murder of correctional officer David McGuinn, who was murdered by inmates serving life sentences at the Maryland House of Correction, or that Mr. Civiletti and his colleagues were not told about the case of Kevin Johns. Johns, already facing life behind bars for murdering his uncle and strangling a cellmate to death, was convicted last year of strangling a second inmate aboard a prison bus. In Allegany County, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Alonzo Johnson III, an inmate already serving a life sentence who is accused of strangling his cellmate to death at Western Correctional Institution.
The reality is that another life sentence for another violent crime means nothing to an inmate already serving life behind bars. The threat of execution is one of the few potential deterrents available to deal with such incorrigible, violent inmates. But Mr. O'Malley and his political allies are fighting to take this potential sanction away.
While politicians in Annapolis talk about abolishing the death penalty, their constituents don't regard it as such a good idea. A recent poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed that 53 percent of Marylanders support the death penalty, while 41 percent oppose it. On this issue, the public gets it; the politicians don't. Mr. O'Malley should end his dubious crusade.
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