The House of Delegates voted Friday to send a bill to repeal the death penalty in Maryland to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk, where it will be signed into law.
The 82-56 vote came after about four hours of often emotional debate on the bill, which was part of an agenda pushed by O’Malley (D).
The repeal will replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
“Today, the Maryland General Assembly voted to repeal the death penalty in Maryland, and in so doing, has removed Maryland from the ranks of other places in this world, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others, that still do have state executions,” O’Malley said at a news conference following the vote.
Debate in the House ranged from reciting of Scripture to recounting of violent crimes. Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Chesapeake City called it “the most serious thing we will ever discuss on this floor.”
“To deter crime, punishment must be swift and it must be certain,” Del. Bill Frick (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda said. “The death penalty is never swift nor certain.”
The effort to repeal capital punishment in Maryland has been going on for more than a decade, but had stalled in the Senate until this year. The Senate approved the repeal by a 27-20 vote on March 6.
There are five men currently on death row, and O’Malley has said he will make decisions about what to do with each man’s sentence on a case-by-case basis.
Maryland has not executed anyone since 2005.
In 2006, the Court of Appeals ruled that protocols for executions were not adopted correctly, and new procedures needed to be put in place.
Proponents of the repeal have cited a history of racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied, and uncertainty in convictions like that of Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after being sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young girl.
Opponents say the death penalty is needed as a punishment for the worst of the worst criminals, and to use as a bargaining chip for prosecutors trying for plea deals.
“By repealing this law, we’re going to cost innocent lives,” Del. Tony McConkey (R-Dist. 33A) of Severna Park said. “In its current form, it’s near perfect and it protects innocent lives.”
In 2009, the bill to repeal the death penalty was amended to keep it on the books, but to narrow the parameters for prosecutors to pursue it.
Maryland is the 18th state to abolish the death penalty, and the sixth in as many years. Four states — Delaware, Kansas, Colorado and New Hampshire — are also considering wiping the punishment from their books this year, according to NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.