Friday, May 23, 2008

Governor: New rules on death penalty

Opponents say directive won’t affect commission studying capital punishment

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday called for the state to consider rules for carrying out the death penalty, but capital punishment proponents and opponents said the directive will not have an effect on the work of a state commission charged with studying the issue.

O’Malley, a death penalty opponent, directed state Public Safety and Correctional Secretary Gary D. Maynard to begin reviewing protocols for how the state administers lethal injections, including the number of drugs used and the order and dosage in which they are given.

The directive comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment; it marks O’Malley’s closest step toward reinstating capital punishment since he took office.

In 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that the state had not properly developed protocols for administering lethal injections and instructed Maryland to do so. O’Malley has refrained from issuing new rules, saying that he wanted to see the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

On Thursday, he conceded that the Supreme Court decision influenced his decision.

‘‘Secretary Maynard will be reviewing our protocols, beginning the rule-making process in light of the guidance provided by that Supreme Court decision and the best advice of medical people in the state,” he said.

Following the Supreme Court decision, House Republican leaders sent a letter to O’Malley urging him to issue new death penalty regulations.

‘‘We hereby respectfully call upon you to immediately take steps to satisfy your obligation to duty and oath and issue the required regulations with regard to faithfully executing Maryland’s death penalty statute,” stated a letter signed by House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby and House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown.

O’Malley seemed to respond to that letter on Thursday in comments to reporters following the final bill signing ceremony of 2008.

‘‘I wish we would arrive at a point where we repeal the death penalty,” he said. ‘‘But I do not have the luxury in this job or the permission in this job only to enforce laws that I’m in favor of and that I agree with.”

On Thursday, O’Donnell remained unmoved by O’Malley’s directive.

‘‘It’s absolutely more deceit and sleight-of-hand smoke and mirrors by this administration,” O’Donnell said. ‘‘This governor has no intention of issuing regulations. It should take a year to send these already existing protocols through the review process. ... I think that he’ll use the study commission that he set up as a foil to prevent ever having to have Maryland’s death penalty implemented again.”

Earlier this month, O’Malley signed legislation establishing a state commission to study the racial, jurisdictional, and socioeconomic disparities in administering the death penalty in Maryland and the risk of innocent people being executed.

The bill passed the General Assembly after lawmakers failed for a second straight year to get a bill to repeal the death penalty to the floor of either chamber.

Reviewing the protocols will have little bearing on the work of the commission, said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. The commission is scheduled to report recommendations by Dec. 15.

‘‘The fundamental issues on the death penalty — whether we should have it, what it costs — are still before the commission,” she said.

Henderson said she hopes that the commission will focus on the death penalty’s cost, its effect on victim’s families and jurisdictional issues.

‘‘These are much bigger questions to me than what drugs are you going to use,” she said.

The commission’s recommendations could provide a boon for repeal efforts, Henderson said.

‘‘I would expect we’ll see a repeal bill reintroduced in 2009 and, depending what the commission finds, we may see that bill pass in 2009,” she said.

Despite Thursday’s announcement, O’Malley said he remains opposed to capital punishment.

‘‘I personally believe that the death penalty is not a deterrent,” he said. ‘‘We right now have a 20 percent reduction of homicides statewide. And that is a 30 percent reduction in the city of Baltimore. That’s happened because of the work of neighbors, better prosecutions, better investments, better work by parole and probation, and a whole lot of policing. None of which was the death penalty.”