- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

A Maryland delegate will push to abolish the state’s death penalty during the upcoming General Assembly, and the NAACP is expected to throw its support behind the proposal Tuesday.

Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, said Monday he will introduce a bill to make Maryland the 17th state to outlaw capital punishment. He sponsored similar legislation last year that stalled in a House committee.

Some Maryland lawmakers and civil rights groups have in recent years called for an end to the death penalty, arguing it is applied more frequently to blacks than whites, costs more to prosecute than standard murder trials, and leaves open the possibility of wrongful executions.

While a 2009 state law made it significantly harder for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty, Mr. Rosenberg said the system should be eliminated entirely to prevent any future mistakes.

“It’s a system that can’t be made to work,” he said. “You can tinker with it all you want.”

Maryland currently has five convicts on death row and has not executed a person since 2005. The state has executed five people since 1976, tied for the 22nd most of any state.

Texas has executed the most convicts during that span with 477, while Virginia is second at 109. The death penalty has been abolished in 16 states and the District.

Opposition to Maryland’s death penalty has increased since 2002, when then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, ordered a moratorium to allow for study into the system’s possible racial bias.

Then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, lifted the ban in 2004 and allowed two executions, but the state Court of Appeals imposed a new moratorium in 2006 after ruling the state’s regulations on lethal injections were outdated.

A state-appointed committee then recommended in 2008 that Maryland abolish the death penalty because of evidence of racial and socioeconomic disparities, high legal costs, and emotional stress on victims’ families caused by lengthy appeals processes.

A 2009 bill to ban capital punishment was rejected by the state Senate, but legislators passed a compromise that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty only in first-degree murder cases in which there is biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or conclusive video evidence.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors will pursue the death penalty in this month’s trial against Lee Edwards Stephens, who is accused of killing a correctional officer in 2006 as a prison inmate. A judge ruled in September that the case could go forward as a capital punishment case.

Montgomery County prosecutors have also not ruled out seeking the death penalty against Curtis M. Lopez, who is accused of killing a Germantown woman and her 11-year-old son in October.

Most opponents of repealing the death penalty have argued that capital punishment should still be an option in the most heinous cases. Others have said that the 2009 law has effectively banned the practice in all but the most obvious trials, making any further legislation moot.

Mr. Rosenberg thinks there is majority support for a ban in both chambers, but that the 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is still on the fence about the bill.

The Associated Press reported last month that Mr. Rosenberg met last summer with Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to discuss the possibility of avoiding the legislative process and effectively barring executions by refusing to fund them in the state budget.

A representative for Mr. O’Malley, who has long favored abolishing the death penalty, has said he is unlikely to do that.

The Maryland State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will announce Tuesday in Annapolis that it wants lawmakers to ban the death penalty.

“To execute an innocent man is just a travesty and inhumane,” said state NAACP chapter president Gerald Stansbury. “I believe that the mood is there, but now is the time for [lawmakers] to stand up.”

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