- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said a long-awaited study released yesterday that found racial bias in capital punishment sentencing in Maryland will not change his plans to lift the state's moratorium on executions.
"I firmly believe that in some cases the ultimate sanction is appropriate, regardless of race," Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday.
The University of Maryland report concluded that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty for cases in which blacks are accused of killing whites. However, blacks were not more likely to receive such a sentence when they committed crimes other than killing whites.
The study also found that the decisions made by state's attorneys on whether to pursue the death penalty varied widely among counties.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said capital punishment remained a just response to the violence and lawlessness that grips places such as Baltimore, where seven shootings left five persons dead during the weekend. But he said racial bias in seeking death sentences was a subject "we take very seriously."
In response to the study's findings, Mr. Ehrlich will form a committee led by Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele to review the cases of the 12 men on Maryland's death row, said Mr. Ehrlich's spokeswoman, Shareese N. DeLeaver.
"Any kinks in the criminal justice system will be ironed out by the Ehrlich administration," she said.
Eight of the inmates on the state's death row are black. Four are white. In all 12 cases, the victims were white.
Maryland has executed three persons, two of them black, since 1978.
Illinois is the only other death-penalty state that has imposed a similar moratorium.
Lifting the moratorium imposed by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening could result in twice as many executions in one year as the total number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978.
There are four death-row inmates who have exhausted their legal appeals and could be put to death as soon as the moratorium ends. Those inmates are:
Heath William Burch, who in 1995 killed Robert Davis, 72, and his wife, Cleo, 78, after breaking into their home. He stole the couple's pickup truck, four guns and $105.
Wesley Eugene Baker, who shot Jane Tyson in the head in the parking lot of a mall outside Baltimore in 1991. He shot Mrs. Tyson and stole her purse. He was within a week of execution when the moratorium was imposed.
John Marvin Booth, who murdered Rose and Irvin Bronstein in 1983. He robbed the couple and fatally stabbed them in their Baltimore home.
Steven Howard Oken, who in the late 1980s murdered Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old newlywed. He shot her twice in the head after sexually assaulting her when she let him into her home to use the phone.
Two other death-row inmates Anthony Grandison and Vernon Evans are nearly out of legal options and could be put to death next year.
The death penalty stands to become a prominent issue in the General Assembly session that opens today. Some prosecutors want to strengthen the statute, saying the law is relatively weak compared with that in other states. They said that was a reason why Maryland lost the right to first prosecute sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad, 42, and John Lee Malvo, 17.
During the gubernatorial campaign, when the Washington-area sniper suspects were captured, Mr. Ehrlich said he supported making juveniles eligible for the death penalty in some cases. Since then, he has not indicated whether he would propose such a change in Maryland law.
Criminologist Ray Paternoster, one of the authors of the study, wrote that the defendant's race was not a significant factor in dispensing the death penalty, but the race of the victim was a major factor.
"Black offenders who kill white victims are at greater risk of death sentences than others, primarily, because they are substantially more likely to be charged by the state's attorney with a capital offense," the report stated.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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