- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A bill to repeal Maryland’s death penalty failed in a Senate committee vote yesterday, dashing the hopes of capital punishment opponents who hoped recent scrutiny of the law had created an opportunity to permanently halt executions in the state.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 5-5 after rejecting an amendment by Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick County Republican, who was considered the swing vote. The bill needed a majority vote to proceed to the Senate floor.

Mr. Mooney’s amendment would have reserved the death penalty for someone who killed while serving a prison term. He said he thought a full repeal “is not in the best interest of the common good of Maryland’s citizens.”

“Regrettably, the only way to stop some people from continuing to kill is to resort to the death penalty,” Mr. Mooney said.

The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat, urged the committee to reject the amendment, saying there could not be “a little bit of a repeal” any more than one could be “a little bit pregnant.”

One of the arguments against the death penalty has been that errors in the criminal justice process could result in the execution of an innocent person. Miss Gladden, a lawyer who has seen prison conditions firsthand while working with clients, said prisons are difficult places to conduct adequate investigations into crimes.

“That amendment is a killer amendment,” she said, and it was rejected by everyone on the committee except Mr. Mooney.

Maryland has 10 aggravating circumstances to murder that can enable prosecutors to seek the death penalty. They include killing a law-enforcement officer on duty or while in a correctional institution. Other circumstances include killing someone during a kidnapping, committing murder for hire or ordering a murder for hire. Killing multiple victims can warrant a death sentence as well. A murderer also can get the death penalty if the killing is committed while attempting a carjacking, robbery, arson, rape or first-degree sexual offense.

The bill, which would have replaced a death sentence with life in prison without possibility of parole, has been one of the most debated measures during the General Assembly’s 90-day session. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said he would be willing to sign legislation repealing the death penalty.

Although a similar measure was introduced in the House of Delegates, the Senate committee vote likely means the end of the repeal’s chances this session.

Sen. Jamin Raskin, Montgomery Democrat, suggested a study of capital punishment in place of a repeal, but it also failed to get the necessary support in a 5-5 vote.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, Carroll Republican, and Norman R. Stone, Baltimore County Democrat, opposed the repeal. They said they didn’t like the idea of approving legislation for a study, for fear that it could be amended before the full Senate to reinstate the repeal.

Miss Gladden said she didn’t think the Senate leadership would “support any shenanigans.” She also told lawmakers she didn’t think enough support could be found for a repeal anyway.

“There’s no will on the Senate floor to repeal the death penalty,” she said.

The committee has 11 members. Death penalty supporter Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil Republican, was absent because of a death in her family. Her vote would not have affected the outcome.

The death penalty has been under scrutiny in Maryland. In December, the state’s highest court ruled that Maryland cannot conduct another execution until the state’s protocol for the procedure is either approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review or exempted from such a review under state law. A bill that would have exempted the state from the review was voted down in a House committee.

The Court of Appeals ruling means that there is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Maryland.

Maryland’s death penalty law also is being reviewed in federal court in Baltimore. U.S. District Judge Benson Legg is considering a challenge by death row inmate Vernon Evans, whose attorneys argue that the state’s lethal injection process is severely flawed and could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Legg postponed the case until lawmakers decided on the legislation.

Six men are on death row.

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