- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O´Malley pleaded with lawmakers to support his bill to repeal the death penalty Wednesday, as he and other advocates weigh their options to pull the bill out of a Senate committee, which has killed similar legislation twice in two years.

“Our free and diverse republic was founded not on fear and retribution, it was founded on higher things,” said Mr. O´Malley, a Democrat, who testified before a packed hearing of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Mr. O´Malley, who is Catholic, has made banning capital punishment a key item of his 2009 legislative agenda.

More than 100 witnesses, both for and against the repeal, packed the small conference room to testify before the committee.

Mr. O´Malley had addressed the committee on the issue in the past, arguing from an empirical standpoint that the death penalty was too expensive and was an ineffective tool to deter violent crime.

Taking a more emotional tone this time, Mr. O´Malley urged the committee to consider “what kind of society we want to be in and what kind of society we hope to leave for our children.”

“Freedom, justice, the dignity of the individual, equal rights before the law, these are the principles that define ourselves as a people,” he said. “We must ask ourselves: Are these principles compatible with the simple taking of a human life?”

A repeal bill fell one vote short of approval by the 11-member committee in 2007.

In December, a state commission on capital punishment recommended that the death penalty be abolished, because of the high cost of trials and appeals and the danger of executing an innocent person.

There are five inmates on death row in Maryland. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, five inmates have been executed. A de facto moratorium on executions has been in place since 2006, when the state´s highest court ruled that the state’s lethal-injection protocols were flawed and could result in unnecessary suffering.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Schellenberger testified against the repeal, saying that Maryland has a much more careful approach to death-penalty cases than other states, limiting the chances of mistakes.

“Maryland is different … California has 667 people on death row, Maryland has five, we´re much more careful here in Maryland,” said Mr. Schellenberger, who also voiced concerns about provisions in the repeal bill that could allow current death-row inmates to gain the possibility of parole if their case undergoes resentencing.

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, said that he found the possibility of a death-row inmate being let out of jail “intolerable.”

“If one of those people on death row had the chance to walk out of jail before his life is over, I could not go back home and look at one constituent in the eye,” said Mr. Brochin.

With the bill stuck in committee for now, lawmakers have been contemplating Senate procedures that would allow the bill to be moved out of committee to the full 47-member Senate body for a vote.

For example, a bill can be moved out of committee without a vote via a petition signed by 16 senators, or one third of the total Senate body.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, a swing vote on the committee, said that although he is not in favor of a full repeal he is not against moving the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

“I´m pretty comfortable saying that I think we should let the bill go to the full Senate body,” said Mr. Mooney.

Still, even if the repeal bill were to approach the Senate floor, it would still face obstacles. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, is staunchly opposed to moving the legislation out of committee without a vote, fearing that death-penalty supporters would wage a filibuster and block Senate business.

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