- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The Maryland Senate yesterday rejected by a single vote, 24-23, a bill that would have reinstated a two-year moratorium on the death penalty.
Fourteen Republicans and 10 Democrats, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's County Democrat, voted against the bill, which was introduced by Baltimore Democrat Ralph M. Hughes and backed unanimously by the state's legislative black caucus.
The bill would have extended a ban on executions until July 2005 to further examine a University of Maryland study that showed racial and geographic biases when prosecuting defendants.
The study, released earlier this year, found that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty for cases in which blacks are accused of killing whites. It also found that decisions made by state's attorneys on whether to pursue the death penalty varied widely.
"I am very disappointed," Mr. Hughes said after the 24-23 vote. "We were very close on the issue. Had the bill passed, we would have had two years to solve the problems."
Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, imposed the moratorium in May 2002. But his successor, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., did not renew it when he took office in January, opening the way for the execution of seven men on Maryland's death row.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, supports the death penalty and has promised to veto legislation that would impose such a moratorium.
Mr. Hughes said a companion bill in the House, sponsored by Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat, is likely to be withdrawn. He plans to meet with lawmakers and others who support the moratorium to decide on a course of action.
Opponents of the moratorium, including lawmakers and people whose family members were murdered by men now on death row, celebrated the bill's defeat yesterday.
"I don't believe the University of Maryland report showed a discrepancy," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican who led Senate opposition to the bill. "It only showed we don't enforce the death penalty in an even-handed way. Baltimore and Prince George's County never seek the death penalty."
Mrs. Jacobs also said she would have led a filibuster had there not been enough votes to defeat the bill.
"I had a 3-inch stack of documents ready," she said.
She said she lives three miles from Fred Romano, brother of Dawn Marie Garvin Romano, who was murdered in 1987 by Steven Oken.
Mr. Oken, who gained entry to Mrs. Garvin's house in suburban Baltimore by asking to use her telephone, raped and shot Mrs. Garvin, a 20-year-old newlywed. Two weeks later, he raped and killed his sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt. The next day, he murdered hotel clerk Lori Ward.
He was convicted of the killings and will be the next death row inmate executed in Maryland and the state's first execution in four years.
"I have lived through a lot with" Mr. Romano, Mrs. Jacobs said. "This has been a roller-coaster ride."
Mr. Romano, who leads a group called the Maryland Coalition for State Executions, said he was relieved by the bill's defeat.
"People who are now on the death row in Maryland are obviously guilty, but there are people here who want them out," he said.
Don Moats, whose stepson, Joey Tutz, was murdered in December 2001 at age 21, said his life has changed since losing his "baby boy."
"Something like that can destroy your life in more ways than you can imagine," he said. "It has been a year and several months now, but my wife still cries herself to sleep every night."
Death-penalty opponents called the bill's defeat a "political vote, not a vote of conscience."
"I am obviously disappointed that the Maryland Senate is comfortable with racial bias," said Jane Henderson, president of the Quixote Center, a Catholic group in Hyattsville that tracks death-penalty cases. "Miller and the others are saying they don't care about civil rights."
Mr. Miller said he voted against the bill because he supported the death penalty for ruthless killers.
"Steven Oken took chloroform and sex objects with him when he went to murder his victims," Mr. Miller said. "If I had my way, the person who kidnapped the little girl in Utah [Elizabeth Smart] would be executed. I have daughters myself, and I cannot imagine anyone violating the sanctity of my home."

The Senate passed a bill 38-8 yesterday to bring charter schools to Maryland, one of Mr. Ehrlich's priorities this legislative session. Though similar to a bill introduced by the Ehrlich administration, it does not include key elements sought by the governor, such as a proposal to allow charter-school teachers not to participate in collective-bargaining agreements and a proposal to create an independent authority to approve the creation of a charter schools.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide