- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | A former U.S. senator and a New Jersey police chief spoke against the death penalty before a commission that is expected to deliver recommendations to lawmakers later this year.

Former Sen. Joseph Davies Tydings, Maryland Democrat, and West Orange, N.J., Police Chief James Abbott told the commission Monday they were not philosophically opposed to capital punishment, but each expressed serious misgivings about its application.

Mr. Tydings said if Maryland wants to keep the death penalty “you have be willing to spend the money” to provide an adequate defense so innocent defendants aren’t placed on death row. He also said one person has been freed from death row for every eight executed since the Supreme Court lifted a capital-punishment moratorium 32 years ago.

However, he said, a study released by the Abell Foundation this year found Maryland has spent $200 million over the past 30 years on its death-penalty system and he felt it was “fiscally impossible” to provide a fair system.

“Just the cost of compensating counsel, it will at least double what’s being spent now, if not triple,” Mr. Tydings said.

Chief Abbott said he served on a New Jersey death penalty commission and found states have not found a way to carry out the death penalty quickly, cheaply and accurately.

He said he would not want to put his family through the process if he were killed in the line of duty.

The chief said if he were killed today, his 10-year-old daughter would likely be 30 by the time his killer was executed.

“I would rather she moved on and got the help she needed,” he said. Chief Abbott also said he supported the death penalty before serving on the commission, but found “the reality is there is no closure in capital cases, just more attention to the murderer and less to the victim.”

The chief said the commission found that victims’ services were severely lacking and that a fraction of the money saved by eliminating the death penalty in favor of life without parole could make a huge difference.

The public hearing was the last for the commission, created in the last legislative session to address concerns including racial, jurisdictional and socioeconomic issues in capital punishment.

It will make recommendations to the General Assembly in December.

The commission also heard previously from Kirk Bloodsworth, who spent more than eight years in prison and two on death row after being wrongly convicted of killing a 9-year-old girl. Mr. Bloodsworth, who is a member of the commission, was freed when newly developed DNA testing proved his innocence.

He has urged the panel to recommend that biological evidence be preserved and stored properly to prevent loss or damage.

Relatives of murder victims have urged the commission to fix the death penalty, not repeal it.

Patrick Kent, chief of the forensics division of the state public defenders office, told the panel that DNA evidence is not a guarantee that someone is guilty, pointing to cases where human error and misconduct have led to the use of DNA evidence against innocent defendants.

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