- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — A ruling by Maryland’s highest court that temporarily halts state executions could give legislators opposed to capital punishment a chance to stop executions indefinitely. But death-penalty supporters say the issue should not be left to languish.

Delegate Anne Healey, incoming chairwoman of a joint legislative committee examining state procedures under the court ruling, said lawmakers now could impose a temporary halt on executions.

“It seems like this is an opportunity to have a moratorium without having to go through all the angst of having a major debate about it across the state,” Mrs. Healey, a Prince George’s Democrat and death-penalty opponent, told the Baltimore Sun.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, another Prince George’s Democrat and co-chairman of the committee, also opposes the death penalty. Mr. Pinsky said he is not rushing to move forward with the review process.

Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who opposes the death penalty, has said he would look to the court for guidance on the issue. O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the administration was reviewing the court opinion.

“There will be time to discuss this issue in depth after the transition process,” he said.

However, some legislators and activists who support the death penalty say the issue should not be put on hold.

“I’m sure that death-penalty opponents — of whom the governor-elect is one — would love to kill the death penalty through inaction in a way that would muddy the issue for voters,” said Michael Paranzino, president of Throw Away the Key, a Kensington-based pro-death-penalty group. “O’Malley would not want to face the voters in four years having directly repealed the death penalty. So he may try this backhanded, inaction method.”

The court ruling was issued days after the decisions in Florida and California to halt executions because of concerns about lethal-injection procedures.

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued its ruling Tuesday in the case of death-row inmate Vernon Evans Jr., 57. He was convicted of murdering two motel employees in Pikesville in 1983.

His execution was postponed in February when the court decided to hear four appeals.

The ruling Tuesday rejected three of them. One raised questions about racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied in Maryland. In another, lawyers argued that nearly all black potential jurors in Evans’ 1984 trial were improperly excluded from the jury. The other appeal was based on an argument that Evans’ lawyer at a 1992 resentencing hearing should have presented evidence of his client’s difficult childhood.

The ruling focused instead on how Maryland’s execution procedures were drafted. The court found the state’s Execution Operations Manual and its checklist of lethal-injection procedures should be considered regulations. As a result, they require public hearings and review by a joint legislative panel. The judges also decided the legislature could avoid the process by exempting the manual from that review.

Karen Poe, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency is reviewing the court decision and that additional appeals were possible.

“It is a tedious, time-consuming process that can take months and months,” she said.

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