Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Wednesday that he intends to commute the sentences of the state’s last four inmates on death row, saying it did not “serve the public good” to leave the men in limbo since lawmakers abolished the death penalty.
Mr. O’Malley, who leaves office in three weeks, said he met with the families of the inmates’ victims before making his decision.
“It is my hope that these commutations might bring about a greater degree of closure for all of the survivors and their families,” Mr. O’Malley said.
The Democratic governor, who is positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run, is a longtime opponent of capital punishment and championed the bill passed two years ago in the Maryland General Assembly that led to its being abolished.
He said a recent opinion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler called into question the legality of carrying out death sentences imposed prior to the measure being passed.
“In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.” he said in a statement announcing his decision. “Gubernatorial inaction — at this point in the legal process — would, in my judgment, needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns, and without any hope of finality or closure.”
The governor intends to commute the death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for:
⦁ Vernon Lee Evans, Jr. and Anthony Grandison, Sr. who were convicted in the murder-for-hire double killing of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy in April 1983.
⦁ Heath William Burch, who was convicted of stabbing and bludgeoning an elderly neighbor couple, Robert and Cleo Davis, in their home in March 1995.
⦁ Jody Lee Miles, who was convicted of robbery and of fatally shooting theater manager Edward J. Atkinson in 1997.
Mr. O’Malley was rumored to be considering stopping the executions ahead of the swearing in of Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan next month. Mr. Hogan has voiced support of capital punishment but had said he would not seek to overturn the state’s ban on executions.
“There is only one governor at a time, and I’m not in a place to second-guess what is probably one of the most difficult decisions a governor may have to make,” Mr. Hogan said Wednesday in response to the announcement. “I am sure Governor O’Malley made his choice after a great deal of consultation and a thorough review of the facts.”
Atkinson’s family supported Mr. O’Malley’s decision, though they disagreed with ending the death penalty in the state, said Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello, who spoke on their behalf.
“They always believed that [death] was the correct sentence and the appropriate sentence, but they are realists and they understand the situation that the Maryland legislature has placed everybody in,” he said. “Their only desire now — because they have been through a lengthy time of appeals — they desire closure.”
Mr. Maciarello said that the family appreciated that Mr. O’Malley traveled to their home on the Eastern Shore to meet with them before commuting the death sentences.
Maryland has executed only five convicts since 1976 — the year the Supreme Court reaffirmed the legality of the death penalty after having placed an effective moratorium on capital punishment in 1972.
Use of capital punishment is at a 20-year-low across the United States with 35 people put to death in 2014.