- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland House of Delegates avoided any changes Wednesday to a Senate measure that would limit the death penalty but not ban it, largely out of concern that amendments could jeopardize progress in death penalty reforms.

The measure is set for a final vote Thursday in the House.

The House rejected several amendments that could have derailed the bill’s chances of passing this session. The measure approved by the Senate was a compromise to a repeal that had the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. The bill now would restrict the death penalty to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.

Delegate Michael Smigiel, Cecil Republican, pushed for an amendment to allow a capital case to be brought against a person who hires a hit man who kills someone.

“If you want a compromise, you’d better be able to go home and tell the citizens of Maryland that we took care of the most notorious - the most vicious - those who kill for profit, not out of passion,” Mr. Smigiel said.

Delegate Craig Rice, Montgomery Democrat, whose aunt was murdered by a contract killer 16 years ago, said it was hard for him to argue against the amendment, but he urged lawmakers to reject it because the current legislation is good policy designed to avoid executing someone by mistake.

“We need to make sure that for those that feel as though the death penalty is the right and justified ultimate penalty that we allow for there to be a certain amount of concrete evidence that’s there,” Mr. Rice said.

Changing the bill presented problems for delegates who support death penalty reforms, because Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, indicated he was not willing to consider many revisions to the bill approved by his divided chamber.

Mr. Smigiel said “a political solution” was not a good reason to turn down an amendment.

“We should ignore the political agreements that were made to push a bill through, and we should try to put the best bill out of this House,” he said.

But Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, who sponsored repeal legislation in the House, touted the higher standards of evidence the bill would require.

“This bill is a significant improvement because of the new evidentiary standards,” he said.

Mr. Smigiel also offered an amendment to include audio tape as strong enough evidence to seek the death penalty. He said a police officer wearing a wire could end up being shot in the line of duty, but the evidence from the recording would not be enough to bring a death penalty case against the killer.

“There is no reason to reject this amendment, other than we have a political solution and let’s get out the best thing we can,” he said. “Let’s fix this bill.”

Delegate Anne Healey, Prince George’s Democrat, said in matters of life and death, the state should take the strongest precautions against accidentally executing an innocent person, and she urged lawmakers to reject all amendments.

“I ask you to please do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Mrs. Healey said.

Amendments to better define what evidence could be used to bring a death penalty case and to ensure fingerprints would qualify also failed.

Maryland has five men on death row. Five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, the last person put to death, was executed in December 2005.

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