- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

With the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee’s failure on Thursday to repeal the death-penalty statute, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s efforts to end capital punishment are very likely dead for this year. Now Marylanders can turn their attention to dealing with the most serious issues relating to crime and punishment, such as how to incapacitate the violent criminals who prey on decent, law-abiding citizens.

Six committee votes were needed to pass the death-penalty repeal; it failed on a 5-5 vote. The panel’s decision hinged on the vote of Sen. Alex Mooney, Frederick Republican, who was the target of an intense lobbying effort by the governor, who in the end failed to put forward a dubious “compromise” to both principled death-penalty supporters and opponents.

At the start of the General Assembly, the governor declared that capital punishment in Maryland had to end. He said repeal of the statute is a moral issue of the highest order, calling executions “inherently unjust.” When it became apparent that the governor lacked the votes to end capital punishment, he desperately tried to woo Mr. Mooney with a compromise that would limit executions to those who murder police officers and prison guards. But it wasn’t enough to win the governor a legislative “victory” — hollow though that may have been.

For the past few weeks, legislators have hung on Mr. Mooney’s every word, intelligible or unintelligible, about capital punishment. Mr. Mooney decided to split the difference in a way that was almost as confusing as the unsuccessful death-penalty compromise floated by the governor. In committee on Thursday, Mr. Mooney tried to amend death-penalty repeal legislation to allow executions for persons who kill while in jail. The panel rejected his amendment by a 9-1 vote, with opponents deciding to stand on principle and oppose executions and death-penalty supporters reasoning that it would be a mistake to bar executions for murders committed outside of prisons, where the overwhelming majority of people live.

We hope to have heard the last — at least during this session of the General Assembly — of Mr. O’Malley’s and Mr. Mooney’s public anguish over the future of capital punishment in Maryland.

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