- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008


When the Maryland General Assembly meets next month, Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to push to repeal the state’s capital-punishment law. Since the current death-penalty statute was enacted in 1978, five men have been executed, the most recent being Wesley Baker on Dec. 5, 2005, for murdering a woman in front of her grandchildren during a 1991 robbery in Baltimore County.

In each of his first two years as governor, Mr. O’Malley tried unsuccessfully to end capital punishment in Maryland, and he’s determined not to lose a third time. So, the governor decided to handle the problem the way progressive politicians in the state are wont to do - by appointing a commission and packing it with an anti-death-penalty majority that will give him the result he wants.

Ergo he created the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, headed by Benjamin Civiletti, who served as attorney general under President Carter. The panel just issued a study calling for an end to capital punishment. It concludes that there is an unacceptable risk that an innocent person will be executed and that it is being administered in a racially discriminatory way.

But they never produce any substantial evidence that prosecutors have tried to seek the death penalty based on a defendant’s race. Nor do they even attempt to make the argument that any of the five men on Maryland’s death row - Jody Miles, Heath Burch, John Booth-el, Vernon Evans or Anthony Grandison - are innocent of the murders they were convicted of. (Booth-el, Evans and Grandison have been on death row for 24 years; Burch and Miles are on death row for crimes committed more than a decade ago.)

Mr. Civiletti and his 11 co-signers also contend that there are “jurisdictional disparities” in the way capital punishment is administered in Maryland. In other words, they say there is something wrong with the fact that Maryland is divided into 24 jurisdictions with locally elected prosecutors with the authority to make their own decisions about capital punishment. In practical terms, this means that in more liberal jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, where opposition to executions runs high, prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty. But in more conservative Baltimore County, prosecutors have been willing to utilize capital punishment. The “disparity” is really nothing sinister at all: It’s called local control.

Mr. Civiletti’s majority report, 119 pages long, makes some valid points about the need to ensure that persons accused of capital crimes have access to post-conviction DNA testing. But more often than not, the majority trips itself up.

In an effort to show that death-penalty appeals are expensive, the majority deluges readers with incomprehensible economic jargon about the “opportunity cost” of capital punishment. Later, in an attempt to show that sentencing murderers to life imprisonment does not endanger the safety of the public or prison guards, the majority makes an astonishing assertion: that offenders sentenced to life without parole “pose minimal risk to correctional officers and other inmates.”

It is difficult to believe that members of the capital-punishment commission are unaware of the recent murders of correctional officers Jeffrey Wroten and David McGuinn, who were slain by inmates at the Roxbury Correctional Institution and the Maryland House of Correction, respectively. Perhaps someone could introduce Mr. Civiletti or Mr. O’Malley to Kevin Johns. Johns is a double murderer who was already serving two life sentences at Baltimore’s Supermax prison for strangling his uncle and strangling a prison cellmate. He was convicted in May of strangling a second inmate aboard a prison bus.

Not everyone supports the death penalty. Some argue that lethal injection is as morally repugnant as the electric chair. But Maryland capital-punishment opponents don’t stake their claim on such a righteous argument.

In fact, while there are cogent arguments to be made against the death penalty in Maryland and elsewhere, there are few to be found in the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment’s new report.

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