- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

Death penalty opponents in the Maryland Senate and Attorney General Joseph Curran are determined to revive a bad idea from the Glendening-Townsend administration: a moratorium on executions. Last May, then-Gov. Parris Glendening, in a crude political ploy to shore up Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's liberal base for her gubernatorial campaign, imposed a one-year moratorium on executions. Upon taking office two months ago, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who criticized the moratorium during last year's campaign, ended the moratorium.
But justices at the Maryland Court of Appeals had other ideas at least in the case of Steven Oken, who in 1987 brutally raped and murdered three women during a crime spree in Maryland and Maine. Oken had been scheduled to die this week. But, in a terse four-paragraph ruling issued last month, the state's highest court voted 5-2 to delay Oken's execution on grounds that state law does not require juries to give sufficient weight to mitigating factors that might discourage them from imposing a death sentence.
The Oken case is a gross miscarriage of justice. Oken's crimes were unspeakable, and even his most vociferous defenders do not claim he is innocent. But, thanks to the Court of Appeals, his execution will be delayed for several months, at a minimum. Fred Romano, the brother of Dawn Garvin Oken's first victim, and his only capital punishment case raises a troubling question about the actions of Mr. Curran. The attorney general's office is responsible for defending all death sentences including Oken's on appeal. Yet, Mr. Curran is openly lobbying for the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland. Mr. Romano suggests that the court's stay of Oken's death sentence results in part from the fact that the attorney general is less than enthusiastic about enforcing the state's death penalty law. We agree.
It is difficult to have much confidence that the death penalty will be enforced when the attorney general is a liberal ideologue who is opposed to capital punishment in all cases. Mr. Curran is pushing for passage of a bill, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Hughes, Baltimore Democrat, which would impose a further two-year moratorium on executions in Maryland. The prime beneficiaries of the Hughes bill would be Oken and the 11 other men on Maryland's death row. The Hughes bill is expected to be debated by the Maryland Senate on Tuesday. If the Senate is irresponsible enough to pass the bill, we trust that Mr. Ehrlich will follow through on his promise to cast a veto.

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