- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision last week upholding lethal injection as a method of execution, the reactions of two Democratic governors who had suspended executions prior to the court’s decision, Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia, have been strikingly different.

Both governors oppose the death penalty. But Mr. Kaine, who despite his personal views has permitted four executions to go forward, announced almost immediately that the moratorium on executions that he had imposed pending the Supreme Court decision was over. Mr. O’Malley, by contrast, left his own backdoor death-penalty moratorium in place: In late 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s protocol for administering lethal injections was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. So, Mr. O’Malley refused to submit the rules for the committee to approve, while he unsuccessfully lobbied the Maryland General Assembly to repeal the state’s death-penalty law.

The different reactions in part reflect the different political makeup of the two states. Although Virginia is increasingly trending toward Democrats, it remains a competitive two-party state. and Mr. Kaine has repeatedly been forced to veto legislation expanding the use of capital punishment in Virginia. The Virginia Commonwealth has long been willing to execute convicted murderers. Since 1982, there have been 99 executions in Virginia. By comparison, Maryland has carried out five executions during the same period, and it is evolving into a one-party blue state with a political makeup like that of Massachusetts.

We would hope that Mr. O’Malley would follow Mr. Kaine’s honorable example and submit new lethal-injection protocol regulations that would allow executions to go forward in Maryland. But he has balked at doing so thus far, and Mr. O’Malley gives every indication that if the General Assembly continues to defy his calls to get rid of capital punishment, he will make the legislature irrelevant by stalling on the protocol. Mr. O’Malley is shirking his gubernatorial responsibilities. While this posture continues, a new legislative commission is being formed to study the death penalty in Maryland. Look for it to be packed with anti-death penalty ideologues who comb through every imaginable demographic or geographical indicator in search of some statistical anomaly proving that capital punishment in Maryland is being administered in a “discriminatory” way.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, five convicted killers are still on the state’s death row at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center (Supermax) in downtown Baltimore. Two of them — Anthony Grandison and Vernon Evans — were sentenced in 1984 for contract killings targeting witnesses in a federal narcotics case. John Booth-el was sentenced in 1984 for murdering two elderly neighbors in a robbery. Heath Burch was sentenced in 1996 for murdering two elderly neighbors in a robbery in Prince George’s County and Jody Miles in 1998 for a robbery-murder. All of these cases have been through state and in some cases federal court multiple times, and from everything we can tell, there is no serious legal standing that calls for the verdicts and sentences of all five killers to be overturned.

Both Mr. Kaine and Mr. O’Malley oppose capital punishment. However, unlike his Virginia counterpart, who has decided to uphold the law, Mr. O’Malley has chosen to snooker it. We understand that an untold number of Americans and politicians wrestle with the morality of the death penalty. But Mr. O’Malley must understand, too, that the law is the law, and he has sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and Maryland state law “without partiality or prejudice.” By failing to carry out his gubernatorial obligations, Mr. O’Malley is enabling convicted killers to escape justice.

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