- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Wesley Baker, Steve Oken and John Booth couldn't make it to Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's announcement of her gubernatorial candidacy on Sunday, although they have at least as much reason to support her candidacy as the gaggle of Democratic machine politicians, homosexual rights advocates, teachers and policemen who were in attendance.

Baker and Booth, who are black, and Oken, who is white, are convicted murderers now awaiting execution at the Supermax prison in Baltimore. The trio would be among the first beneficiaries of Mrs. Townsend's call last Thursday for a moratorium on executions while the death penalty in Maryland is probed for evidence of "racial bias," none of which has come to light thus far.

Baker was on parole for armed robbery on June 6, 1991, when he approached Jane Tyson and shot her to death in front of her grandchildren in a Catonsville parking lot. Booth, a career criminal, tied up and murdered two elderly neighbors after robbing their home in Baltimore in 1983. Oken, who hails from an affluent family, raped and shot to death a Baltimore County woman in November 1987. She was the first of three women Oken murdered during a three-week rampage in Maryland and Maine.

In attempting to explain her position, Mrs. Townsend disingenuously suggests that while she favors the death penalty, she wants to prevent miscarriages of justice like those in Illinois, where innocent men were wrongly convicted of murder. But there is no evidence that anything like this has occurred in the cases of Booth, Baker or Oken, or any of the 10 other people on death row in Maryland. Mrs. Townsend, who faces the possibility of a tough primary challenge from Baltimore's popular mayor, Martin O'Malley, a more straightforward death-penalty foe, has simply made a crude political calculation: By saying she supports capital punishment and favors a moratorium, she can have it both ways.

The reality is that Mrs. Townsend is simply incompetent when it comes to crime-fighting. Gov. Parris Glendening appointed her to oversee juvenile-justice "reform." The result was a disastrously system of "boot camps" for juvenile delinquents. After the Baltimore Sun ran a series of articles showing that youths at the camps were routinely beaten up by sadistic guards, juvenile-justice officials agreed to pay 900 of the delinquents $4 million as part of a legal settlement.

Mrs. Townsend has now moved on to other "reforms." This year, one of her top legislative priorities was passage of legislation which would limit judges' virtually uncontrolled authority to reduce felons' sentences. The bill was deep-sixed by Senate President and Democratic Party boss Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, a supporter of Mrs. Townsend's candidacy, who told her in essence to take a hike.

Thus far, Mrs. Townsend has avoided offering detailed positions on important issues such as education and taxes. Surely, Maryland can do better than this.

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