Wednesday, August 20, 2008

— A state commission on Tuesday debated the cost of executing someone in Maryland, while dozens of relatives of murder victims urged lawmakers to ban capital punishment because of the emotional drain and expense.

The debate illustrated wide disparities between supporters and opponents over how much they think putting someone to death costs.

Benjamin Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general and chairman of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, opened the discussion by saying the cost of incarcerating someone in a Maryland prison is roughly $40,000 a year.

However, he also said there’s “a real unknown” when it comes to determining complex calculations for an overall estimate of how much the death-penalty process costs.

John Roman, who conducted a study for the Urban Institute in March, told the commission it costs about $3 million for a case that results in an execution. “It’s about $1.9 million more than a case where no death notice is sought,” he said.

Mr. Roman said the study estimated two key costs, including expenses related with filing a death notice and costs associated with imposing a death sentence.

But critics of the study questioned how Mr. Roman totaled the expenses, focusing on how the study attempted to calculate time devoted by judges and lawyers to carry out the process.

Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, who has prosecuted eight death-penalty cases in Maryland, told the commission the study contained “significant errors in math.” He also said putting a price on justice is a mistake.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger asked Mr. Roman: “What evidence do you have here today that any case in my jurisdiction in the last 30 years has been dropped, lost, missed, dismissed, because I have people trying the death penalty?”

Mr. Roman replied it was “a fair question,” one that he couldn’t answer. “But I would like to make the point … those hours have to come from somewhere.”

Meanwhile, 49 family members from across Maryland signed a letter released by a group called Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, asking for lawmakers to ban capital punishment.

The hearing was the third public meeting of the commission, which was established in the last legislative session to address several concerns, including racial, jurisdictional and socioeconomic issues in capital punishment. It will make recommendations to the General Assembly in December.

There is a de facto moratorium against capital punishment in Maryland because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state’s highest court that the state’s protocol for lethal injection was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until a new protocol is created for the committee to approve. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and death penalty opponent, has directed the state to begin working on the protocol, a process that could be finished by the end of the year.

Maryland has five men on death row. Only five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland.

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