- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009


The Maryland Senate voted 34-13 Thursday to limit, but not ban, the use of capital punishment after amending a repeal measure as a compromise on a divisive issue.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where legislation to repeal appears to have stronger support.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat who supports capital punishment, has indicated the compromise measure is as far as the Senate can go, despite strong support for repeal from Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

“We’re not trying to make any demands on the House of Delegates or the governor or anybody else,” Mr. Miller said. “This is recognizing the volatility of the issue here and the very close divide here.”

Earlier this week, the Senate stripped a repeal out of the legislation. The bill was amended by Sen. Robert Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, to create higher standards for prosecutors to seek the death penalty in order to reduce the chances of executing an innocent person.

Under Mr. Zirkin’s amendment, prosecutors seeking the death penalty would need biological evidence such as DNA, a voluntary videotaped confession to a murder, or a video recording that conclusively links a defendant to a killing.

“It raises the bar on what it takes to get into the capital punishment statute,” he said.

But the amendment concerned some lawmakers who think it goes too far. For example, several senators said they were worried fingerprints would not be enough to bring a capital case.

Sen. Alex Mooney, Frederick Republican, read an attorney general’s opinion he requested that indicated fingerprints would not qualify as DNA evidence.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, the Senate’s Republican leader, said he changed his mind about supporting the bill. He also expressed misgivings about the possibility that evidence contained in a still photograph also would not be enough to bring a capital case.

“I want to make sure whether or not fingerprints can work or not,” Mr. Kittleman said. “I want that to be a possibility. I want to know whether or not a photo falls within a videotape.”

But Sen. Dolores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, argued that the bill represented the best compromise the Senate could reach.

“This bill in its current posture won’t perfectly get everybody in the net that those who are pro-death penalty might want to get,” Ms. Kelley said. “It also won’t resolve the problem altogether of some innocent person perhaps being executed, but there isn’t any perfect system.”

Efforts to send the bill back to committee for more work and to move it back in the process for more amendments were rejected.

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