Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Maryland’s highest court yesterday rejected condemned murderer Vernon Evans’ appeal for a new trial but ruled that the state must revisit protocols for lethal injections before carrying out another execution.

The Maryland Court of Appeals directed the state to rewrite the protocols in accordance with state law or have the legislature grant an exemption for the protocols.

The ruling did not impugn the state’s lethal-injection procedure, but faulted the way the state established the procedures.

Nevertheless, the decision set the stage for a debate about capital punishment and lethal injection in the upcoming General Assembly session.

The ruling prompted Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley to pledge his willingness to sign death warrants despite his personal opposition to capital punishment.

“I take an oath to uphold the law,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat serving his second term as Baltimore’s mayor. “That doesn’t mean those laws can’t be made better and more effective.”

The Maryland decision comes four days after executions were halted in California and Florida over concerns that lethal injections might constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Evans is pursuing that claim in a federal lawsuit.

Mr. O’Malley said he supported an end to capital punishment in Maryland, saying it was an ineffective crime-fighting strategy and a waste of money.

“I would like to see us evolve to a point in time where we understand that the death penalty does not reduce violent crime and it is not a deterrent to violent crime,” Mr. O’Malley told reporters at a press conference in Baltimore, where he announced that his transportation secretary will be John D. Porcari, who had the same post under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

“The dollars that we invest in [capital punishment] would be better spent in other places,” Mr. O’Malley said. “I am very much in favor of life without parole for people who shoot, maim and kill other people. … I’m not an advocate for the death penalty. I don’t think it works.”

At issue in yesterday’s ruling is the state’s execution operations manual, which determines the drugs that will be used and how they will be injected. The court found that the manual was never submitted to a joint legislative committee or given a public hearing before it was adopted by the Department of Corrections, as required under the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.

The Court of Appeals reversed a ruling that denied a temporary restraining order in the case and remanded the case back to the Baltimore Circuit Court

While Evans is not entitled to a new sentencing proceeding or to a new trial under the ruling, his attorney, A. Stephen Hut Jr., called the ruling “an important win” that comes at a time when lethal injection is coming under closer scrutiny in other states.

Karen V. Poe, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said attorneys for the state will review the opinion and advise the department head on the next course of action.

Maryland uses three drugs during executions. Sodium pentothal renders the inmate unconscious; pancurium bromide paralyzes the inmate’s breathing; and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Evans was sentenced to die for the 1983 contract murders of Scott Piechowicz, 27, and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, 19.

The victims were killed with a high-powered Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun while working at a motel in Pikesville. Evans mistakenly killed Miss Kennedy in place of her sister Cheryl — Mr. Piechowicz’s wife. Miss Kennedy was filling in for Mrs. Piechowicz that night.

The Piechowiczes had been scheduled to testify against Anthony Grandison in a federal drug case. Prosecutors said Evans took $9,000 from Grandison, who was in prison, to carry out the killings

Both men eventually were convicted in federal court of witness tampering and civil rights violations. They also were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in trials prosecuted by Baltimore County.

n This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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