Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to submit a bill Friday to repeal the death penalty, making supporters all but certain of its passage. Still, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and others predicted the issue will end up before the voters.
O’Malley, a past supporter of repeal, didn’t seem fazed at the prospect of an eventual statewide referendum.
“[The voters] have shown that they have sound and good judgment on other issues,” O’Malley (D) said, apparently referring to a spate of ballot questions that passed on Election Day.
Flanked by civil rights advocates and repeal supporters at a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis, O’Malley said the death penalty is expensive and doesn’t work. “I believe we have the will [to repeal it] in the Senate, and I believe we have the will in the House,” he said.
Death penalty repeal has been an ongoing effort for more than a decade, and the state hasn’t executed anyone since the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in December 2006 that the regulations governing capital punishment were unconstitutional.
Capital cases are generally far more expensive to prosecute than noncapital murder cases –– about $1.9 million versus $650,000.
The governor last sponsored a bill for repeal in 2009, when the legislation was amended to keep the death penalty in cases in which there was DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime being committed.
O’Malley had not previously specified whether he would sponsor repeal legislation this year, although he has long supported eliminating the death penalty.
Under the current proposal, the death penalty would be replaced with life imprisonment without parole.
The NAACP also supports the measure, and the organization’s president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, said the effort in Maryland is a steppingstone to repeal at the national level.
“That’s how we get from Maryland to Georgia, and from Maryland to Texas,” Jealous said.
Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach has said that he would allow a repeal bill to the floor, as long as O’Malley can get the votes to pass it. He also predicted that the voters will have the ultimate say on the issue.
Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, welcomed the latest repeal effort.
“I’ve felt for two years that if we could get it to the floor, we could get it passed,” she said. “And that was before all this momentum.”
Both the Senate and the Judicial Proceedings Committee are within one vote of passing a repeal bill, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, chairman of the committee, where the bill will be heard.
“The governor makes a difference,” said Frosh, who supports repeal. “He can work to sway those votes.”
Even if there are not enough votes on the committee of 11, Frosh said there are three or four ways to get the bill to the floor of the Senate.
One vote still up in the air is Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mill, who sits on Judicial Proceedings.
“I’m not sure where I’m at right now,” said Zirkin, an attorney. While he understands the argument for repeal, he has seen some cases in which the death penalty might be appropriate, he said. “I’ve never been comfortable with the death penalty, but I’ve never been comfortable without it,” Zirkin said.
Sen. James Brochin (D-Dist. 42) of Towson, another member of the committee, is opposed to repeal because he wants to ensure prosecutors have the death penalty as a bargaining tool when working out plea deals.
“If you start with death, you ultimately get life without parole,” Brochin said. “If you start with life without parole, then you end up with life, and depending on who the governor is, sometimes life doesn’t really mean life.
“I’m very disappointed the Senate president is going to circumvent committee procedure.”