- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

It’s ironic that even in the new era of one-party liberal rule that Marylanders voted for in November, death-penalty opponents apparently won’t be able to ram a repeal bill through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee without the support of a wavering conservative Republican: Sen. Alex Mooney. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s ardor for ending capital punishment is not shared by many of his fellow Democrats, so the governor has been desperately trying to persuade Mr. Mooney — who is uncomfortable with the death penalty — to support its abolition in Maryland.

While this newspaper backs capital punishment, we understand how Mr. Mooney and other good people of conscience can struggle with the issue and arrive at a different conclusion. Even so, we are troubled by the press coverage of Mr. Mooney’s deliberations, which is often fawning and silly. A reporter from the Baltimore Sun breathlessly reported Thursday from Annapolis that Mr. Mooney said he has read the autobiography of Kirk Bloodsworth, who was imprisoned after his wrongful conviction for the 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl from Baltimore County named Dawn Hamilton. (Mr. Bloodsworth, for reasons we can certainly understand, is opposed to the death penalty.) Mr. Mooney describes his book as a “compelling story.”

We’ve also read that book, and Mr. Mooney is exactly right. But what does the senator’s mini-book review tell us about whether Maryland should have the death penalty? Like so much of what passes for serious debate in Annapolis these days, it tells us nothing that is terribly useful. Does it necessarily follow from Mr. Bloodsworth’s ordeal that the man who actually murdered Dawn Hamilton (Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was already serving a lengthy sentence in Maryland for another crime, was linked to Dawn’s murder by DNA samples) should live? These are difficult questions; it is not self-evident to us that a child-killer like Ruffner should have been given a life term instead of being executed. But as best as we can tell, reporters covering the General Assembly generally don’t care to dirty themselves with complicated questions like this: It might actually force the governor and other doctrinaire opponents of capital punishment to go beyond their talking points and explain why they think we are somehow better off as human beings if we let people like Kimberly Ruffner live to a ripe old age in the Department of Correction.

As it becomes increasingly unlikely that Mr. O’Malley can persuade the legislature to abolish the death penalty, the governor is trying to woo Mr. Mooney with a phony compromise, and Mr. Mooney says he may support limiting eligibility to those who kill prison guards and police officers. That’s not a compromise. It’s a face-saving fraud, and we think it suggests a lack of respect for the lives of the overwhelming majority of Marylanders who aren’t in law enforcement. Mr. Mooney should face squarely his responsibilities as an elected official by voting up or down on the death penalty and telling the governor what he can do with his nonsensical effort to split the difference.

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