- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Clemency from Maryland's governor is among the last hopes for Eugene Colvin-el, a convicted murderer who is scheduled to go to the death chamber next month.

Little, except Gov. Parris N. Glendening, stands between the condemned 55-year-old man and execution, as Colvin-el's lawyer prepares to file a clemency appeal today or tomorrow.

It is unlikely the request will be granted. Since he became governor in 1995, Mr. Glendening denied clemency to two death row inmates whose time and options ran out.

Although Mr. Glendening has made it clear he supports capital punishment and has ended parole for convicts sentenced to life, many fellow Democrats say they don't understand why the otherwise liberal governor has balked at declaring a moratorium on the death penalty at a time when evidence is growing that innocent people have been sentenced to death.

Decidedly more conservative leaders including Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who supports capital punishment, and evangelist and Christian broadcasting mogul Pat Robertson have said new findings that many wrongly convicted people have been sent to death row are grounds to halt executions.

"We're not asking [Mr. Glendening] to change his position relative to the death penalty," said Montgomery County Council member Isiah Leggett, second vice chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and Howard University law professor. "But if there's one life lost because of inadequate representation, that's too many."

Mr. Glendening has heard the criticism and has allocated $225,000 for a study to examine whether racial or other biases may determine who winds up on Maryland's death row. But he did not back calls for a moratorium made by some leading Democratic state lawmakers.

Mr. Glendening's spokeswoman, Michelle Byrnie, said a moratorium is unwarranted before a University of Maryland team finishes reviewing the state's administration of the death penalty, expected to be concluded in June 2002.

Others are moving ahead more quickly. Last week, Montgomery County Council passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The legislatures of two of Maryland's other most populous jurisdictions, Prince George's County and Baltimore city, have approved similar resolutions.

Those who argue the death penalty is not applied fairly in Maryland cite figures: Twelve of the 17 convicts on Maryland's death row nearly 75 percent are black, according to department of corrections spokesman Len Sipes. That ratio is almost in inverse proportion to the state's black population estimated at 25 percent.

State Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat, said she believes analysis may show Maryland stands second in the nation in the percentage of black inmates sentenced to death.

The Glendening administration's reluctance to call for a moratorium on executions in Maryland may be rooted in concern that it would give the perception that the state is doing something wrong, Mr. Leggett said, noting that Maryland has carried out relatively few executions four, in fact since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976.

That figure puts Maryland far behind neighboring Virginia, which with a population just one-third larger than Maryland executed 14 persons and kept 32 on death row last year. Virginia ranks second behind Texas for having the most executions since the death penalty was reinstated.

The problem for many who end up on death row, some supporters for a moratorium say, is resources: Defendants are often poor and must rely on public defenders.

"There's no way a person who had the proper resources to hire a lawyer would be convicted on circumstantial evidence" as Colvin-el was, Mrs. Marriott said.

Fingerprints on broken glass in the Baltimore County home where 82-year-old Lena Buckman was stabbed 28 times were the strongest evidence linking Colvin-el to the September 1980 murder. Records also showed Colvin-el pawned a watch belonging to Mrs. Buckman's late husband.

Mrs. Byrnie said the public can be assured that innocent people will not be executed because Mr. Glendening will conduct a complete review of Colvin-el's case and others.

Colvin-el is slated for execution during the week of June 12. The U.S. Supreme Court refused last month to hear Colvin-el's case. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Robert H. Heller set a June execution date last week.

Four more Maryland death row inmates are nearing the end of their appeals and could be asking Mr. Glendening for clemency before he leaves office in 2003.

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