Gail Ewing: Appeals process, not death penalty, is problem -- Gazette.Net







Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Leave a Comment
Print this Article

On Jan. 15, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his intention to see the repeal of the death penalty in Maryland.

“The death penalty is expensive and it does not work,” he said, “and for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it.” O’Malley added, “Having the death penalty on the books did nothing to keep the homicides from rising.” So, he said, “Is it worth wasting taxpayer dollars on a policy that does not work?”

The governor has reached the epitome of government-speak on the issue: Elimination of the death penalty is a cost-effective answer to crime.

Oh really? Is it the cost of the execution that’s so expensive? Or, is it the cost of the courts and lawyers through an extensive and lengthy appeals process? How about the amount spent on incarceration of the criminal during that ordeal?

Why isn’t the governor’s effort spent on reducing the time and expense of the process to get to the execution rather than trying to eliminate the execution itself?

The Urban Institute in 2008 determined that executions in Maryland cost $3.7 million each. O’Malley has not OK’d any executions since he’s been in office, and so five men have been sitting on death row during his tenure. They are costing the taxpayers money, but so far it is not for their execution.

O’Malley touts that doing away with executions will free up much of the appeals expense, so Maryland can “invest in strategies that work” and solve more cases. He cites all the good efforts of the police and criminal justice system, such as use of DNA evidence and the latest crime-fighting technologies that have brought overall crime down in the state to a 30-year low.

Maryland has had the death penalty, with all the extraordinary time and money expense of the appeals process, in those 30 years. By what magic does eliminating the death penalty greatly improve on the progress? Does anyone really believe the money saved from eliminating the death penalty will go toward crime prevention and catching more criminals? Will we truly be safer?

And will there really be that much in savings by eliminating executions? After all, a criminal can still use appeals to try to avoid life in prison. So the taxpayers will be paying the legal expenses to try and uphold the sentence, as well as paying for the lifetime incarceration of the murderer.

Repealing the death penalty is a very “in” topic. All of Europe, except Belarus, has abolished the death penalty. Even Russia has done away with it. Perhaps the governor is thinking of bringing Maryland into the global community on this issue.

Add to that, families of murder and vicious crime victims have been pleading for relief from the appeals process that forces them to relive the heinous details of their loved one’s ordeal. Jim O’Brien, whose daughter was murdered, told Equal Justice USA, “Eight years of trials and retrials changed my mind about the death penalty. I learned the hard way that the death penalty is an albatross over the heads of victims.”

Miriam Thimm Kelle’s brother was tortured to death. She tells EJUSA of the more than 20 years of hearing about the murderer, his life, his future and practically no discussion of her brother, the victim –– and still no execution. She sees what the process has done to her family and now wants to abolish the death penalty, as she rues the day she subjected herself to the ordeal.

Through the long and arduous court process following convictions, victims’ families are put through cruel and unusual punishment for their “crime” of being related to someone who was murdered. The process itself is a crime inflicted on the innocent.

The appeals process is the problem, not the execution. The right thing to do is to keep the death penalty and to improve the appeals process to ensure that the execution happens in a reasonable amount of time.

The Maryland General Assembly started to improve death-penalty requirements in 2009 when it restricted eligible cases to those in which there was DNA evidence or a full confession.That action overcame a huge hurdle in the debate. Now it is extremely unlikely, even impossible, that an innocent person in Maryland would be caught in a catch-22. When all is said and done, the death penalty is the enforcement of justice.

Justice is for the families. Their loved one endured a hellish end and they are gone forever. Family members had no goodbyes, no last smile, no last kiss, no last heart-to-heart, no more joy to share with that person.

To all those concerned about the rights of the criminals and whether execution is cruel and unusual punishment, I say society has no obligation on either count. I see no justification for sparing the life or protecting the person who has committed an atrocity. These criminals have defied all that is right, all that is humane, all that is fair. They deserve no mercy.

Families and society deserve justice. Government has the responsibility to bring justice. Execution is the only true justice in cases of heinous crime.

Gail Ewing of Potomac is a retired at-large Montgomery County Council member. Her email address is