- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

The results of a University of Maryland study into the alleged racial bias of the death penalty in Maryland were originally scheduled for completion this week. Now, they have been postponed until after November's elections. That should not come as a surprise. Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have politicized the issue from the beginning. This is especially true since the university received, since 2000, more than $13 million in state grants over the past few years from the anti-crime office headed by Mrs. Townsend, money that now is the subject of a federal investigation.
Ever since May, when Mrs. Townsend successfully lobbied Mr. Glendening to declare a one-year moratorium while the issue is studied, her goals have been transparent. She wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, she claims to support capital punishment. On the other, she is unabashedly currying favor with liberal anti-death penalty forces as she tries to fend off a serious gubernatorial challenge from Republican nominee Robert Ehrlich. Mr. Ehrlich, by contrast, takes the common sense position: Evaluate each death penalty case brought before him on its individual merits.
The arguments in favor of a moratorium have been specious from the beginning. No persuasive case has been advanced that any of the 13 men on Maryland's death row are innocent. When he announced that he was instituting a moratorium, Mr. Glendening indicated that issues of guilt and innocence were of secondary interest in determining whether to stop executions (there have been two during his administration). He claimed to be concerned about the "partiality" of the system specifically, the fact that 12 of the 13 men were sentenced for murdering whites, and that nine of the 13 slated for execution are from Baltimore County, while Baltimore City and Prince George's County, where many more homicides occur, sent just one person each to death row.
But, contrary to the governor's reasoning, there are legitimate reasons why that is so. In relatively liberal jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Prince George's, prosecutors almost never seek the death penalty because their experience tells them that juries may not convict. By contrast, the state's attorney in Baltimore County has an ironclad policy of seeking the death penalty in every case that qualifies for it under Maryland law, with two exceptions when evidence is based solely on a co-defendant's testimony, or the victim's relatives oppose a death sentence. There is simply no evidence whatsoever that prosecutors in Baltimore County or anywhere else in Maryland are choosing to seek the death penalty based upon the race of the accused.
However, studies like that being conducted by the University of Maryland don't focus on serious issues of guilt and innocence. Instead, probers look for statistical anomalies in an effort to show that members of one or another racial or geographic group are disproportionately sentenced to death. Mrs. Townsend's raw politicization of the death penalty issue is obvious. It's no coincidence that the school postponed the release of its findings until after the election.

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