- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | A Maryland commission voted Wednesday to recommend abolishing the death penalty in the state, citing jurisdictional and racial disparities in how it is used and the possibility that an innocent person could one day be executed by mistake.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment voted 13-7 to make the recommendation in its report to lawmakers and the governor next month.

Death-penalty opponents hope the commission’s vote will sway lawmakers toward repeal. Repeal efforts failed last year in a tight Senate committee vote and were put on hold this year until the commission could do its work.

The commission’s vote came after the failure of a proposed compromise to keep the death penalty for a prison inmate serving life or life without possibility of parole who kills another inmate or a correctional officer or someone who kills a police officer.

Benjamin Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general who chairs the commission, said he doesn’t have a fixed view on the morality of the death penalty. However, he said he opposes it for pragmatic reasons, such as the cost, the potential for an innocent person to be executed and jurisdictional disparities.

“It’s haphazard in how it’s applied, and that’s terribly unfair,” Mr. Civiletti said.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Schellenberger, a commission member who supports the death penalty, said he would author a minority report.

“It will be simple and direct and to the point,” Mr. Schellenberger said. “I believe, and obviously six other commissioners believe, that the death penalty is still an important and viable option here in the state of Maryland.”

The commission also voted on several findings that it will submit in its report, which is due Dec. 15.

Panel members decided that there’s “a real possibility” an innocent person could someday be executed in Maryland.

Mr. Schellenberger argued against the language, saying it makes the possibility sound greater than it is. He also said there was no evidence that an innocent person has ever been executed in Maryland or is currently on death row.

“Not one person came in and offered one shred of evidence to that effect,” Mr. Schellenberger said, citing testimony the commission has heard over several months.

But Kirk Bloodsworth, another commission member who once was on death row for a murder he didn’t commit, said his colleagues didn’t need to look any further than him to see that it’s possible for an innocent person to end up on death row.

“In 1985, I went to death row for two years,” Mr. Bloodsworth said. “Now, if that’s not real, I don’t know what is.” He was ultimately cleared by DNA evidence.

The panel also found that there was no persuasive evidence the death penalty deters homicides in Maryland.

The commission was created in the last legislative session to address several concerns, including racial, jurisdictional and socio-economic issues in the death penalty.

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 of Appeals found that the state’s lethal injection protocols weren’t properly approved by a legislative committee. Executions can’t resume until a new protocol is created for the committee to approve.

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