Saturday, March 21, 2009

Capital Punishment: Bill limiting death penalty use advances in Maryland

Capital Punishment: Bill limiting death penalty use advances in Maryland


• Associated Press Writer

• March 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS — A measure that would limit the use of capital punishment in Maryland inched closer to becoming a law Friday after a House of Delegates committee voted to advance the bill.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 14-7 to support restricting the use of the death penalty to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA or conclusive videotaped evidence. The bill now advances to the House floor.

Gov. Martin O’Malley had backed a full repeal of the death penalty, but told the House Committee this week that the compromise represented “progress.”

A divided Senate approved the legislation earlier this month in hopes of settling the matter for the session. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports capital punishment, has said compromise is as far as the Senate will be able to go.

House committee members rejected at least a dozen attempts to amend the legislation, including proposals to allow the death penalty when there is a signed murder confession or an audio recording of the murder.

Several Republican committee members alleged their colleagues were both kowtowing to the wishes of O’Malley and afraid to amend the bill and set up a clash with Miller.

“Our obligation is to think about what we’re doing and vote on the merits of the bill and not on the dictates of some political figure in another branch of government or in another house,” said Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil. “This House has to stand individually and we’re not.”
Even some Democrats expressed outrage at how the bill had arrived in the committee.

Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said Miller’s “do it my way or else” approach was an “abomination,” but she supported the measure because it comes “as close to repeal as possible.”
“When you get down to what happens as a result of it, it is almost a repeal and I’m going to vote for the bill,” Dumais said.

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and the vice chairman of the committee, said “orders did not come down from above” to him and he does not believe the executive branch told anybody else how to vote on the bill.

“This is the most profound issue we will deal with as members of this legislature,” Rosenberg said. “I respect the process by which everyone has come to their decision, and I think we all need to respect that process and our individual beliefs and our individual motivations.”

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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