ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley will throw his support behind legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland this year, he announced at an event Tuesday while flanked by civil rights activists and legislators.
The governor said he plans to file legislation this week in the Maryland General Assembly and that he believes he has the support to repeal capital punishment after two earlier unsuccessful attempts.
"I believe, especially in tough times, if there is something that we are doing in our government that is expensive and does not work, then we should stop doing it," Mr. O'Malley said. "The death penalty is expensive and it does not work and for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it."
Activists, including those from the National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People and anti-death penalty groups, joined the governor for the announcement, and some legislators pledged their support for the bill once it is introduced.
"It it gets there, we will pass it," said Delegate Aisha Braveboy, Prince George's Democrat, of the bill's introduction to the floor of the House of Delegates.
Though death penalty repeal has the governor's support, the legislation will still face detractors.
"I think you need the ultimate penalty out there," said Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, who said he would vote against such legislation.
Speaking after the governor's press conference, Mr. Brochin said "misplaced priorities" are behind the notion of repealing the death penalty.
"They talk about these five people who are on death row, who have done the worst of the worst. And what about the victims' families?" said Mr. Brochin, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee which would likely consider the bill. "I haven't seen any effort in my 11 years down here to even address any of their concerns."
Survey results released Monday by pollster OpinionWorks show that a plurality of respondents statewide support capital punishment, 48 percent to 42 percent who oppose. Respondents in Montgomery County favored repeal by 49 percent to 41 percent, Prince George's County respondents narrowly opposed repeal, by a margin of 42 percent to 41 percent. Baltimore voters opposed repealing the death penalty, 52 percent to 36 percent.
More conservative areas of the state, like Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, also opposed repealing the death penalty by significant margins.
The poll of 800 voters was conducted Dec. 28 and Jan. 2 and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Opposition to Maryland's death penalty has increased since 2002, when then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, ordered a moratorium to allow for study into the system's possible racial bias.
Then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, lifted the ban in 2004 and allowed two executions, but the state Court of Appeals imposed a new moratorium in 2006 after ruling the state's regulations on lethal injections were outdated.
A state-appointed committee then recommended in 2008 that Maryland abolish the death penalty because of evidence of racial and socioeconomic disparities, high legal costs, and emotional stress on victims' families caused by lengthy appeals processes.
Mr. O'Malley pushed for a death penalty repeal during the first year of his first term, in 2007. He backed another effort in 2009, when a bill to ban capital punishment was rejected by the state Senate. Legislators instead passed a compromise that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty only in first-degree murder cases in which there is biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or conclusive video evidence.
Maryland currently has five people on death row and has not executed a person since 2005. The state has executed five people since 1976.
Analysts say executions have plummeted nationwide and are banned in some states because of rising concerns over heavy court costs, biased sentencing and, perhaps most prominently, the fear that a state could — or already has — killed an innocent person.
Yearly executions in the U.S. have decreased by more than 50 percent since 1999, when 98 people were put to death — the most since the Supreme Court placed an effective moratorium on capital punishment in 1972, and reaffirmed its legality in 1976.
Last year, 43 convicts were executed in a total of nine states, even though 33 states allow the death penalty and more than 3,000 inmates are on death row nationwide. The practice has been abolished in 17 states and the District, with five of those states — New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Connecticut and Illinois — banning it in the past five years.
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