- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) | The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment held its first public hearing Monday, one of several to explore the state’s death-penalty procedures before issuing recommendations to lawmakers at the end of the year.

The panel asked questions and heard testimony of University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster. He released a study in 2003 that concluded Maryland prosecutors were more than twice as likely to seek a death sentence for black defendants who killed white people than for black defendants who killed black people.

The panel also heard from Deborah Poritz, a former chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Miss Poritz noted similar disparities occurred among counties in New Jersey, which repealed the death penalty this year.

The commission was established in the 2008 legislative session to address several concerns, including racial, jurisdictional and socio-economic issues in capital punishment. Former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti is leading the commission, which has 22 other people.

The commission will issue its findings and recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly by Dec. 15.

The panel is scheduled to hold two more public hearings in August. A fourth will be held in September, and another has been tentatively scheduled in September, if necessary. The commission will then hold two meetings in October and another in November. Members of the public can testify at the hearings.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and death-penalty opponent, has supported repealing capital punishment in Maryland. However, repeal attempts have failed in the past two years.

The commission includes three relatives of murder victims and Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Maryland death-row inmate whose case was the first capital conviction overturned as a result of DNA testing in the United States.

There is a de facto moratorium against capital punishment in Maryland because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state’s highest court. The court ruled the state’s protocol for the lethal-injection procedure was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until the O’Malley administration submits new rules for the committee to approve.

Mr. O’Malley has directed the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections 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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