- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation Thursday that would give Maryland the most restrictive death penalty laws of the 35 states that allow capital punishment.

But with court-ordered regulations that would govern the use of lethal injections still unwritten, a de facto moratorium on executions remains in place in the state for the foreseeable future.

“There is no death penalty now in Maryland, and there will continue to be no death penalty in the state of Maryland, regardless of what our laws say,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil County Republican.

Repealing the death penalty has been a legislative priority for Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, since he was elected in 2006. He lobbied heavily for repeal during the recently concluded legislative session.

The governor’s hope of passing a repeal bill was dashed last month when the General Assembly passed a compromise bill that limited the evidence that can be used in death penalty cases.

The new legislation, which Mr. O’Malley signed Thursday, allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty only for cases in which they have DNA evidence, videotaped evidence or a voluntary videotaped confession.

Mr. O’Malley said the new restrictions will “help us prevent the possibility of ever putting an innocent person to death.”

State officials have been barred from carrying out executions since the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2006 ruled that Maryland’s lethal injection protocols were not properly adopted and ordered Mr. O’Malley to revise the regulations.

Five inmates are on Maryland’s death row.

The new protocols must first be formulated by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. They then must be reviewed and approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.

Mr. O’Malley in May 2008 asked his public safety secretary to begin drafting guidelines to reinstate lethal injections after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April 2008 that lethal injection did not violate the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Asked the status of the regulations on Thursday, Mr. O’Malley said his administration is working on them.

“We’ll have something on that later,” he said.

Maryland state Sen. David R. Brinkley said it is likely there will be no action until at least the next legislative session, which begins in January.

“I don’t think we’ll have a death penalty by the next time we meet,” said Mr. Brinkley, Frederick County Republican. “I very much doubt it.”

Other state lawmakers who advocate repeal of the death penalty say Mr. O’Malley should not be rushed, and that even if new protocols are introduced, it might take several months for the approval process to run its course.

“He’s in a difficult situation. I mean, he was very admirable in his effort to pass the repeal, but now he has to deal with the fact that the repeal effort failed,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s County Democrat and a co-chairman of the legislative committee that will review the new protocols.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to expedite this process. In fact, if he decides to be lax, personally I would encourage it,” Mr. Pinsky said.

Mr. Brinkley, who also sits on the review committee, acknowledged that death penalty opponents have it in their power to stall the approval of any new measures for as long as they want.

“Look at it this way, those who advocate for repeal drive the bus, but they don’t want to start it and they don’t want to put in gear,” Mr. Brinkley said.

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