- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

When Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, egged on by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, announced in May that he was imposing a one-year moratorium on executions, he did so pending the release of a University of Maryland study on the "fairness" of the application of the death penalty. Since no serious question has been raised as to the guilt of any of the individuals on death row, many Marylanders came to understand this action for what it was: politicizing the issue in a desperate effort by the Townsend campaign to woo black death penalty foes in heavily Democratic Baltimore and Prince George's County.
By September, it had become abundantly clear that Mrs. Townsend's faltering gubernatorial campaign was not being helped by the moratorium. Given the fact that the university had received upwards of $13 million in state grants over the past few years from the state crime office headed by Mrs. Townsend (money that became the subject of a federal investigation by the U.S. attorney for Maryland), it hardly came as surprise when the school announced it was postponing the study's release until after the election. So, the report was released surprise just eight days before the inauguration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who rightly promised to end the blanket moratorium and review each death penalty case on an individual basis.
Four murderers on Maryland's death row have exhausted their appeals and could be executed as early as next month. Unable to come up with evidence that any of them is innocent, opponents of the death penalty nonetheless have seized upon the study to suggest that there are disparities.
For example, in a front-page story, "Large Racial Disparity Found By Study of Maryland Death Penalty," The Washington Post declared that prosecutors in the state are "far more likely" to seek capital punishment for black suspects charged with killing white victims. The chief author of the Maryland study, a professor named Raymond Paternoster, said that prosecutors were largely to blame because their decisions resulted in "racial disparity."
And, just to make sure that Mr. Ehrlich understands that things could get ugly if he permits executions to go forward, Delegate Salima Siler Marriott of Baltimore declared that such a move by the new governor would send a message that he "is discounting racial justice."
Buried in the final paragraphs of The Post article were comments by critics of the study, among them Anne Brobst, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County, who noted that much of the "disparity" results from differences in practice between local jurisdictions: In Baltimore County, which has a relatively high percentage of white murder victims, the policy is to seek the death penalty whenever possible. By contrast, in Baltimore city and Prince George's County, where the overwhelming majority of black murder victims are slain, prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty because local juries are reluctant to impose it.
In short, the University of Maryland study is a textbook example of the tactics that opponents of the death penalty are resorting to when the guilt of the accused isn't at issue: pour through the data, find some statistical anomaly and complain that it invalidates the death penalty. We trust that Mr. Ehrlich will see this political scam for what it is.

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