- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The moratorium on death penalties in Maryland will end when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. takes office today, clearing the way for seven executions in the state.
When Mr. Ehrlich is sworn at the State House, he will become the state's first Republican governor in 36 years.
During his campaign last year, Mr. Ehrlich supported lifting the moratorium imposed last May by outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said Mr. Ehrlich would establish a task force led by Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to review death-row cases.
"Instead of a blanket stay on every inmate, the new governor will review every case," he also said.
In his first days of Mr. Ehrlich's administration, he is expected to introduce a budget plan to close a $1.8 billion gap over the next 18 months. The budget also includes a proposal to increase state revenue by legalizing slot machines.
"The budget is his first and foremost priority," Mr. Fawell said. "Reconciling it is very important."
Mr. Ehrlich has outlined other priorities for the upcoming three months of the General Assembly, including the introduction of charter school legislation, the Project Exile crime-prevention program and state funding for faith-based groups. He also intends to start an anti-drug abuse initiative during his first term that is a combination of policing and education.
"I did not realize how big a problem drugs were until I started working on this budget," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Drugs are a problem that cross all social lines in every region of the state."
However, some of his plans will likely face strong opposition.
Legislators from both parties are divided on the slot machines issue. While Democrats such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. support it, Republicans including House Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus oppose it.
The death-penalty debate is also expected to intensify.
Maryland now has four white and eight black men on death row. Two could have death warrants signed when the moratorium is lifted, and five others could run out of appeals later this year, according to the Maryland Attorney General's Office.
A death-penalty study released by the University of Maryland last week reviewed 1,311 death-eligible cases from 1978 to 1999 and found prosecutors were most likely to seek death sentences for black defendants who killed white victims.
When the study was released last week, lawmakers hurried to introduce bills in the House and Senate that would place a hold on executions, with the hope of getting them signed by Mr. Glendening. However, no hearings were scheduled on the bill until yesterday.
The bills were introduced by Baltimore city lawmakers Sen. Ralph M. Hughes and Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, who say they will now make them two-year moratoriums to get Mr. Ehrlich's approval.
If Mr. Ehrlich vetoes the bills, which he likely will, the legislature would need a two-thirds majority to pass them.
However, legislators remain hopeful. As many as 43 delegates are named on the House version of the bill, while 13 senators are backing their version.
"We got all the signatures within the first four hours on opening day," Mrs. Marriott said.
Mr. Hughes said the state needed to take a closer look at the University of Maryland study before lifting the moratorium.
"I am personally against the death penalty, and I would rather it be permanent," he said. "Not only because of the racial issues involved, but because people on death row have been found innocent."
Meanwhile, Mr. Glendening said yesterday he would not follow the lead of Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who on Saturday gave a last-minute blanket commutation to the state's death-row inmates.
"In light of the incoming governor taking the oath of office, the governor felt it would be inappropriate to take such action," Glendening spokesman Chuck Porcari said.
S.A. Miller contributed to this article,which is based in part on wire service reports.


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